Stevie Rachelle recalls when band leader / drummer Michael Lean ended up parting ways with Tuff

Photo by Christopher Lee Helton

Stevie Rachelle recalls when band leader / drummer Michael Lean ended up parting ways with Tuff

Tuff frontman Stevie Rachelle has just released the 19th instalment of his 25-part Tuff Diaries via the Metal Sludge website. This time, Rachelle covered an entire year (1993) during which the classic line-up member, band leader and drummer Michael Lean parted ways with the band after an eight year run. Lean played on Tuff‘s debut full-length studio album What Comes Around Goes Around (1991).

Rachelle indicated:

1993’s Random Gigs

As the year began we played a few shows, which included a Hollywood date at “The Whisky” with VAIN in January, a few dates in Phoenix at the trusty “Mason Jar” and then back in Hollywood at the “Troubadour” in late March.

Other than that… we did a few dates in the San Fernando Valley in August, for a grand total of 6 live performances during the first 9 plus months of 1993.

But typically, we would always do a long tour in the fall and it was booked to start in mid October and take us across the entire U.S. and back to California ending the week before Christmas.

The year was pretty slow in general for Tuff, not just the live shows, but everything as a whole for the band.

We were still trying to sort that new label for our new songs and we also flew to Philadelphia to demo a few more tunes with producer and songwriter Randy Cantor.

We all had various jobs, and I was working close to full-time as a mover while living in Reseda.

Danny was living in Hollywood and working at a Tanning Salon, while Jorge lived in North Hollywood.

Jorge was living with his girlfriend (unless they were fighting) and he never to my knowledge ever held a job for more than a week the entire time I knew him.

Michael was renting a house in Burbank and he worked too but I can’t recall exactly what he was doing at the time.

As the end of the summer winds down we were getting ready for what had become an annual thing for us.

That fall tour of the U.S., and our booking agency Ashley Street Talent out of Michigan was busy sorting a pretty long run of dates.

It’s now September and we had only played a few shows the entire year.

And the calendar has us hitting the road to do this full 2 month 40 plus date U.S. Tour.

The tour was scheduled to start October 19th in Phoenix Arizona and it ended on December 17th in San Diego.

As the month of September was coming to a close, I was trying to coordinate rehearsals as we haven’t done much of that in quite a while.

Jorge, Danny and I are all ready to get in a room and start working on the set, but Michael is kind of putting it off.

By this point I had taken a much more significant role in the band as the leader, for what it’s worth.

But Michael was no doubt the guy when I joined, and it was he who led the way in the 80’s and early 90’s as we worked our way towards signing to Atlantic Records.

I was always his right-hand man, but he was definitely the boss.

In short, Michael was John Gotti, and I was the under-boss and muscle… or Sammy “The Bull.”

However in 1992 and 1993, my position in the group had become even more involved than before, as Michael and his interest seemed to be waning.

Todd had also quit and Jorge was usually smoking pot and as useless as ever, unless playing his guitar.

Over the years, while I was trying to line up pussy for the night, in between working at a moving company or on a movie set, Michael was also reading up on stocks, computers and business investments.

Over the years, I recall all of us seemed to joke with him from time to time, or goof on him for being ‘Mr. Business’.

Now it’s late September and the first tour date is less than 3 weeks away, however we had not rehearsed once.

At some point Michael and I are on the phone, and I am pushing him; “Dude, we gotta rehearse, the tour starts in the next few weeks.”

Michael then said something I had never expected to hear, but his words were something like: “Why don’t you get Billy to do the tour?”

Billy was my roommate from Philadelphia, who was also a drummer, a good looking kid but in my eyes, he didn’t have nearly enough experience.

He was also several years younger, which at the time, I was 27… and Billy had just turned 21.

Not that this age makes a huge difference, but truth is, Billy just didn’t have enough mileage behind the kit to be that guy.

I then say to Michael: “Huh? So you want Billy to do the tour, but you’re going to stay home, and then still be in the band when we get back?”

Michael seemed to imply that was his idea.

Michael was also adamant; we need a new and bigger record deal, one with a commitment, a real budget and so on.

But by this point it was pretty clear, Tuff were not getting another big record deal.

And I think Michael had read the writing on the wall long before I or Jorge did.

After a mildly heated discussion I told Michael this: “You are either in the band, or not in the band.”

Without much hesitation Michael agreed, and soon after our phone call ended.

The bottom line was, Michael wasn’t going to go on tour for 2 months across the U.S. in a van.

He also had a son who at this time had just started grade school.

His priorities weren’t playing taverns and dive bars across the mid-west, especially when he had a kid.

I am not sure what he thought, but I felt at the time and still to this day, feel that Michael was somewhat relieved.

I don’t think he wanted to quit… and I didn’t fire him, but it was a ‘Shit or get off the pot’ kind of cross-roads.

And he chose to get off the pot and out of the touring van so to speak.

Michael had also voiced his ideas to open up a Coffee Shop and start his own business.

I along with Jorge, and some others all thought this was, well… kind of goofy.

“A Coffee Shop?” I said to myself, why open a Coffee Shop?

The truth is, the ending with Michael was not a good one, but it wasn’t a bad one either.

There was no yelling, no screaming, no anger or hate… but he wasn’t feeling it anymore and I was still as committed as ever.

I was going to go forward, Tuff had a 40-date U.S. Tour booked, and now… I (we) needed a new drummer and fast.

If my calendar notes prove true, that conversation with Michael opting to leave the band took place in early October of 1993.

We were running low on time as it was, and just to get ready for a tour of this magnitude is a lot of work.

But now that Michael has officially checked out… we have to find, rehearse with and work into the show and band – a new drummer in literally – day’s time.”

You can read the rest of the 19th edition of the Tuff Diaries at Metal Sludge‘s website.