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Flash Metal Suicide: Tuff

This week: underachievers Tuff, whose 1991 album What Comes Around Goes Around missed the glam metal land-rush altogether

“Hippies turned to punkers and rockers turned to glam/Everyone's a poser now unless you like to slam” - All New Generation

I think Crystal Pistol said it best: everybody hates you when you love rock'n'roll. Flash metal bands are easy targets on a good day, and it's been decades since any of them had one of those. And some bands get it worse than others, Tuff being a prime example. Tuff get zero respect in the rock community. They are down there in the hair metal gutter with the rest of the one-hit blunders and the never-weres, down in the neon-glowing, spandex-stretching abyss, swirling down rock history's drain with bands like Kik Tracee, Vain, Pretty Boy Floyd, Trixter, Antix, Snatch, Teeze, White Tiger, and Lord Tracy.

Outside of a small pocket of die-hards, Tuff are nobody's heroes. And they know it, too. I mean, their live “hits” album is titled Decade of Disrespect. Dude, I couldn't even let 'hits' go without being a dick about it in my last sentence. That's how ingrained Tuff-hate is in this toxic climate of ours. But do they deserve it?

Sure. But who didn't back then? Tuff formed in Arizona in 1985. During their formative years they shed a few members, including one singer who left to become a figure skater and another, Jim Gillette, who later grew his hair as high as a mountain and formed Nitro. Before then, however, he sang on Tuff's 1986 debut, a self-released cassette EP called Knock Yourself Out. It sounds, basically, like an Eastern European version of Poison.

After Gillette split, the band settled in on the “classic” line-up fronted by one Stevie Rachelle. Stevie looked like Brett Michaels and pretty much dressed like him, too. Musically, this version of Tuff weren't quite as tacky as Poison, but they were definitely in the same arena. They played the Sunset Strip just like everybody else, but somehow eluded a record deal during the initial glam metal land-rush. By the time they actually got around to releasing their major label debut album, it was 1991. If we have learned anything in this journey to the dark heart of flash metal, it's that EVERYBODY (except Skid Row) DIED IN 1991.

Well, there was the power-ballad. Before they hit the wall, Tuff did enjoy some momentum with I Hate Kissing You Goodbye, a smooshy bullshit fluff-piece that, at the very least, had a title that dripped with irony. After that, forget it. You remember 1991, right? Were you listening to Tuff? No. You were listening to Nevermind, Badmotorfinger, Ten, Gish, Temple of the Dog, etc etc. 1991 was a fantastic year for rock n' roll. Disastrous one for Tuff.

But here's the thing: they endured. They went back to releasing their own shit and carried on. The arenas continued to elude them but they could still fill a club on a Saturday night, and with so many bands moping around with minor-chords and ripped denim, the world needed Tuff. So Tuff stayed. But it sure the fuck wasn't all cake and sodomy.

In 1998, Stevie Rachelle created Metal Sludge, one of the early web's most active rock sites and the meeting/beating place for anyone on either side of the “hair metal” debacle. During it's heyday it was a must-read bloodsport spectacle, full of the snarkiest interviews imaginable, groupie reports, and salacious news items detailing the inevitable downfall of your favourite/least favourite bandana-abusers. Rachelle's involvement wasn't known – or at the very least advertised – and Tuff took as many knocks as their contemporaries, maybe even more. If you can't beat 'em, pretend to be one of 'em and let the shitstorm ensue. Rachelle probably deserves some kind of award for that one, man.

In 2001, Rachelle's penchant for self-parody hit a dazzling new high with the release of the History of Tuff compilation, which also included a new track, American Hair Band. A parody of Kid Rock's American Bad Ass, Hair Band is a howler, at once acid-tongued but heartfelt, a fist-pumping metal-forever anthem complete with a few self-deprecating swipes at Rachelle's own faltering career (“I'm going back to '89, I went platinum zero times!” ) and lots of well-deserved venom for grunge (“Wearin' that dirty flannel, when are you gonna learn, dirtball? You can't fuck with Twisted Sister!”). It almost makes you want to dig out your old copy of Metal Health. Almost.

Anyway, the fifteen or so “best-ofs” and re-recordings these guys have done over the years don't help their case any, and neither does Stevie's sideband, the tragically named Cheeseheads With Attitude. So forget all that. Here's the good news: eventually Tuff's party metal sound came around again, at least as an overblown satire of itself (Steel Panther, The Darkness), and the modern-era Tuff is basically exactly that. Stick around long enough, you'll be back in style.

Listen, man. It ain't easy bein' Tuff. Hats off to Stevie Rachelle, the only man brave enough to do it.

Next week: Last gang in town

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