Over the past fifteen years, drummer Tommy Stewart has amassed an impressive résumé of credits including gigs with Detroit metal band Halloween, glam rockers Lillian Axe, high-profile tenure with Godsmack and an ongoing creative involvement with Lo-Pro featuring vocalist Pete Murray and guitarist Neil Godfrey, formerly of Ultraspank. In the current chapter of his career evolution, Tommy sits behind the drum throne of Fuel, touring with the band’s revamped line up featuring new singer Toryn Green (formerly of LA’s Something to Burn).
While Fuel’s fifth album Angels & Devils (released in August 2007) was recorded with prolific session drummer Josh Freese, Tommy was a natural choice when Fuel needed a touring drummer. “I had done a number of shows with Fuel when (former drummer) Kevin Miller left,” Tommy explains. “We’re all friend plus I know their catalog as well as the songs on this new record. The first Fuel record came out in 1998 at the same time as the first Godsmack record. I’ve always loved their songs, but I guess the best thing about being in this band is that after having been around the block once or twice, working with a great bunch of people and also having the chance to be involved with good music is just a pleasure.”
Asked what he’d say to longtime Fuel fans about embracing the new line up, Tommy doesn’t hear much difference between classic Fuel with former vocalist Brett Scallions and the band’s sound on Angels & Devils. “Some people say that Toryn’s voice is very similar to how Brett sang on the first record, so the music still has that flavor,” he offers. “Toryn does justice to the old songs and the new material is really good. It’s still Fuel. I don’t think it will seem much different other than having two new faces onstage.”
Metal Edge: You’ve had a steady career but have moved around between different bands. What has that taught you about being flexible as a drummer?
Tommy Stewart: I wouldn’t put myself in the same category as a player who goes from a jazz gig to a rock gig to a gig where he’s got to play a samba beat. The bands I’ve been in were basically hard rock bands, whether it’s straight two and four to make room for the melody or a little more percussive, like Godsmack.But I’ve found that the more you learn the better prepared you’ll be for the next gig that comes along. The gigs I’ve had have been fairly similar stylistically, but by picking up different things here and there over the years I can put it all in the ‘toolbox’ to choose from when something else comes up.
Metal Edge: I understand that you played drums on Rusty Wright’s CD Ain’t No Good Life, which features songs in a blues/southern rock style. What was that like?
Tommy Stewart: Rusty’s a friend of mine from Michigan; we grew up together and he asked me to play drums on his record. He has a seven piece band with horns and they play the blues circuits. Rusty’s songs have different flavors to them; from old ‘70s Robin Trower to The Allman Brothers. For that gig I use different cymbal weights and sizes as well as different drum sizes, and I did use brushes on one or two tracks. Also, when playing that gig I don’t use a lot of my upper body. It’s more wrists and arms and not too much of a “wail away” kind of thing. It’s definitely more flavorful, where the drums will follow a guitar or a vocal line. That’s how I think about drums anyway, as far as serving the song. I’ve also worked with NYC vocalist Katrina Chester (daughter of legendary session drummer Gary Chester). I played on her EP released a year or so ago. That was more R&B, funk and soul stuff, which was really interesting to play and a lot of fun.
Metal Edge: What players are you inspired by lately?
Tommy Stewart: I was watching an episode of VH1’s Classic Albums on Steely Dan’s Aja. What happens is that I get reacquainted with a drummer through a show like that. I’ll get so excited about his playing that I go back and listen to all the recordings he’s done. Some of the drummers from the Aja sessions include Rick Marotta, who laid down the groove for “Peg” – which is incredible. Then there’s Bernard Purdie, Steve Gadd and Jim Keltner, who are all legends. I got goose bumps watching that program. Other times I’ll read a great interview with a guy like Morgan Rose and then go back and listen to Sevendust, because he’s a sick player. That kind of experience is what makes up my “Who are you listening to currently” file, as far as reinforcing a player in my mind.
Metal Edge: You’re a big fan of Neil Peart if I recall correctly.
Tommy Stewart: I am, and I’ve got a story about Neil actually. Our bus driver Dave is also Neil Peart’s driver for about 12 years. Neil is the only member of Rush who doesn’t fly from gig to gig because he takes his motorcycles on the road. Dave played us some of the new Rush record before it was even out and I was picking his brain because Neil was the first drummer I really got into. On our day off we went to the Rush show at (NY area venue) Jones Beach. Dave took me on stage and I had the opportunity to see and touch Neil’s kit up close. Although I didn’t get the chance to meet Neil in person, being that close to his kit was a huge for me, because he had such a serious influence on me when I was just starting out.
Sizes: 22” Kick, 10” and 12” Rack Toms, 16” Floor Tom, 14” Snare
Sticks: Vic Firth
This article was originally written for Metal Edge Magazine as part of a monthly column by Gail Worley (under the pen name Jayne Rollins). With the magazines’ dissolution, the article has been added to the content base of The Worley Gig for our readers’ enjoyment.