News Segment


February 16, 2007

In the world of professional bull riding, the goal is eight seconds. In the world of Rock Star Supernova, the reality is eight minutes.

That’s how much phone time Supernova drummer Tommy Lee gave this music journalist during a recent interview. The music industry standard is the “15-minute phoner,” although 20-minute interviews are fairly commonplace as well.

Yet, very few musicians are as busy as Lee. The 44-year-old native of Athens, Greece is a successful author, reality TV star and legendary rock musician. He also maintains the type of challenging social calendar that would put Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan to shame.

For the past 25 years, Lee’s main claim to fame has been as the heart and soul of Motley Crue. His newer fans, however, know him primarily for his involvement in Rock Star Supernova, a reality TV-spawned supergroup that performs Wednesday at Arco Arena in Sacramento and Thursday at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

To an outsider, it seems like Lee never slows down. That perception, the drummer says, is pretty much right on the money.

“If I am sitting still, that’s when I get in trouble,” he says from Los Angeles. “I just like to stay busy and stay creative. If I’m not playing music, I’m playing with my kids or something.”

Even a marathon man enjoys some new scenery now and again. Indeed, the key to Lee’s vitality has been change. Before he tires of one thing, he’s off to the next — be it co-authoring a book (“Tommyland”), starting up a new band (the short-lived Methods of Mayhem), starring in a reality TV show (NBC’s “Tommy Lee Goes to College”) or joining the other original members of Motley Crue for a lengthy reunion tour.

It was after the latter that Lee found himself really in need of a change. From early 2005 to mid-2006, he logged in more than 130 dates with his fellow Crue men, vocalist Vince Neil, bassist Nikki Sixx and guitarist Mick Mars.

He would find what he was looking for when he was asked to take part in the second season of the CBS reality TV show “Rock Star.” The first season, during which singers competed to front the band INXS, proved tremendously popular with viewers.

For the second go-round, vocalists battled to lead a newly formed supergroup featuring Lee, Walnut Creek bassist Jason Newsted (formerly of Metallica) and guitarist Gilby Clarke (formerly of Guns N’ Roses). The show was co-hosted by Dave Navarro, the ex-Jane’s Addiction guitarist whose band Panic Channel will open Rock Star Supernova’s concerts in Oakland and Sacramento.

The series ran from July to September last year and was a hit with television audiences. Critics were less enthralled. They complained that the sanitized talent show format, in which the singers were judged by the band members, was a very unnatural and unorthodox way to start a new group.

Most of the competitors seemed straight out of the “American Idol” fold, only with a lot more leather and hairspray, which left many wondering how an established rock vocalist would have fared on the show. Indeed, Lee admits that the man he’s backed for most of his career — Crue’s Neil — likely wouldn’t have made the cut.

“That’s really not the kind of guy we were looking for,” he says. “We were looking for something new and fresh — something 2007.”

It turned out that they were looking for Canadian singer Lukas Rossi, a choice that surprised many viewers. Rossi, a former cook at a Hooters restaurant, was considered by some to be a huge underdog among the final four contestants. Yet, Lee says he had a hunch that Rossi would win the prize basically from the first time he heard him sing.

“Lucas busted out this original piece of music called `Headspin,’ ” Lee recalls. “Right then, I said, `You know what? That might be our guy right there.’ “

The clincher, as far as Lee was concerned, was when Rossi was able to make a certain cover song sound appealing.

“Lucas took a Bon Jovi song and actually made it sound great,” the drummer marvels. “I was blown away.”

As reward for his efforts, Rossi was able to record a CD with Lee, Clarke and Newsted titled “Rock Star Supernova,” which was released in November. The disc has thus far been a commercial disappointment — failing even to break into the top 100 of the Billboard album chart.

The band, obviously, is hoping for better results from the road show.

The tour opener, on New Year’s Eve at the Joint in Las Vegas, received negative reviews from the press. One review that ran on called it “wildly uneven” and chided the band for its NC-17 stage antics, the kind that Motley Crue built a career on. Lee, not surprisingly, has a different take on the debut bash.

“It was awesome,” he says. “What a way to bring in the new year with a new band. And Vegas, obviously, is retarded. After about three or four days of that, we finally got out of there alive.”

Newsted, however, didn’t even make it onstage for opening night. A little more than a month after the “Supernova” TV series ended, the bassist injured his left shoulder and right arm while trying to catch a falling bass amp. The injuries will probably sideline him for the entire tour.

That’s a bummer for local fans who were hoping to see Newsted play in the Bay Area. Performing in his place will be the Black Crowes’ Johnny Colt. The good news, according to Lee, is that the current band is still an appealing marriage of musical styles.

“Gilby comes from a hard rock, bluesy kind of school. I come from an anything-goes type of school,” he says. “You got Johnny, who comes from hard rock, but is also a bluesy player. Then you got Lucas and he’s into the Radioheads and Coldplays. It’s really the ultimate mix.”

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