Home / Interviews / 20 Questions / 20 Questions w/ original TUFF skin basher Michael Lean!

20 Questions w/ original TUFF skin basher Michael Lean!

20 Questions w/ original TUFF skin basher Michael Lean!


Michael Lean sports the skeleton suit 1987/88 era.

Before N. Sixx, Bizkit, Axl or Wednesday 13.

Never fear Michael Lean is here. Michael was the business man behind TUFF and helped the band to gain International exposure years before a record deal. Michael joined the band when he was just 18 years old and with his leadership and hard work helped the band do things most unsigned bands only dream of.

To find out more about Michaels Bagels go here www.oldnewyork.com

To find out more about his drumming with TUFF go here www.TuffCds.com

Let’s catch up with the original skin basher and see what’s been happening for the last decade plus with Michael Lean.


Michael Lean @ NAMM 2006 a special guest at the DW booth!

1. This is your chance to plug your shit, your stores, website, & whatever else you want?


I have been a restaurateur for the past 12 years owning Old New York Deli & Bagel Co. www.oldnewyork.com , having one shop in Camarillo, CA and the other in the resort town of Mammoth Lakes, CA.  I currently reside in Mammoth, where I spend most of my time, you know doing the stuff most people do, skiing, sledding, hiking, mountain biking and enjoying the Eastern Sierras. I am now looking at franchising/licensing our concept to expand the brand.

2. You left the band Tuff in 1993 to pursue starting your own business. That turned out to be a Coffee & Bagel shop. How do you go from tattoos, tours

and heavy metal to selling poppy seed bagels and java?

Good question, sometimes I ask myself that over and over. I guess as I reflect, I had considered joining another group or two as I have a passion for drumming and music in general. After I left the group I wanted to put down the sticks for a while and go into business, I had the music business burn out. I wanted to start several businesses, restaurants, tanning shops, etc. and looked to move out to Ventura County, out of Burbank were I was living.  Being from New York and loving great food, we decided to start a small coffee and bagel bakery, the question was, where?  A quick Harley ride with my now wife Julie, landed us in Camarillo and we loved the area. A few months later back in ‘94 we opened our store. It started as just a little low key shop for the community(matter of fact it was called Low Key Coffee  & Bagel when we opened) that has turned into a full blown quick casual restaurant, deli & bakery. Twelve years later, and a new shop and move to Mammoth Lakes, CA., I guess you can say I put down the sticks for awhile!


Michael Lean, Stevie Rachelle, Jorge DeSaint & Todd Chase on Hollywood Blvd.

3. You were the bands main backer and business liaison during the early years, even though the youngest member. You helped to put the Tuff name on the map big time, and have not been heard from in over a decade. Where the hell did you go, and what was your initial plan with the group when you made the move to Hollywood?

Well time has flown by since the Tuff days of traveling across the county in a van, or a bus and sharing pork and beans four ways in small apartments in the valley! I joined the group in Phoenix, then Todd, Jorge & I played some gigs in Phoenix with Terry and Jim (first singers) , we lived in this house out west and I met Deb Rosner (Poison Publicist at the time) at a Poison gig at Bootleggers in Phoenix.  I started talking to Deb and just decided we needed to move to Hollywood. I was 18 when we moved, and we never looked back. We hit Hollywood hard when we moved back in the day. We did our own demo back in Phoenix that we gave away in L.A. before we even moved, one with a full color cover sleeve, etc. I always thought we were signed! We just started working 24/7-365 like every band should trying to get our feet wet and get noticed. We really worked hard for a long, long time, changed singers three times before we got a record deal, we did all the things that only signed bands would normally do such as making full color posters, getting press coverage in all the national mags (thank you to all my press buddies that made it happen) and local rags, built a massive fan base and toured all the time to get noticed. We were always playing somewhere, somehow! We always wanted the show, the image to be larger than life, so we always had cool stage props, blew shit up with pyro at the shows, had large ads, flyers all over town, etc.  It was unreal that we could not land a record deal before we finally did. Timing is everything, I think if we were signed right after Warrant got signed we would have had a better outcome with record sales, we were a day late, a dollar or more short, who knows!. I think it starting coming to an end for me when Todd decided to leave the band, that was a tough time as we basically all grew up together, I felt that the vibe was lost and was getting burned out of the music biz in general, so I was planning a departure myself. It was a blast and I want thank Todd, Jorge, Terry, Jim & Stevie, and all the fans that supported us for so long, thanks again. Hey, and speaking of the band backer, I am still waiting on checks from Stevie, Todd & Jorge, I better go check the mail right now!

4. You were also a partner with Jim Gillette in Metal Power vocal lessons. How did that whole venture come to be, and how many lessons did you guys sell through those Rip ads?

Jim came to me with his idea of doing the M.P. and asked for me to put some dough into it. The idea came from Doug Marks Guitar lessons. A great idea, we sold a bunch, Jim made some dough, I did not. Tax loss #1. I just spoke with Jim, he’s been developing an island in Turks N Caicos, married to Litta with two kids, and kicking ass. I should have bought that lot!

5. Rate a Drummer 1-10. 1 being a hack, and 10 being a Drum God!

Tommy Lee = Bomber, mad man, what can anyone say bad about the guy that went up-side down with the kit, Tommy is insane, period!(10)

Steven Sweet = Fucks his drums like an animal, great guy too! (6)

Bobby Blotzer = Not a big fan (5)

Alex Van Halen = His kits are insane, great solid player (8)

Terri Bozzio = My favorite, got to see him on his first clinic tour put on by Pro Drum years ago in Hollywood, unreal in every aspect of drumming (10+++++++)

Rob Affusso = I like the S.R. stuff allot (6)

Jimi Lord = One of the many Tuff drummers since my departure (2)

Vikki Foxx = Solid player, killer tricks, (7)

Rikki Rocket = Makes more money than me! (2)

Vinnie Paul = Pounding, hella fast feet (8)


Michael Lean with long time friend and tech Dennis "Rat" Dudek.

This gig was with Sea Hags, you can see their banner on the left in red.



6. You had a good friendship with Jason Newsted from the bands Phoenix days.

How did that start?

I used to go over to his house/apartments and just hang out, being a youngster and just watch the Dogz (Flotsam) jam. I really liked Jason from the day I met him, a kid from Michigan that worked his ass off for music. Kelly the drummer did a stint in jail and I actually jammed with them for a bit, which was a blast, even though I sucked back then! I think I even met Jorge at his house, as he and Jorge were buddies and Jorge always jammed with him. What a dream come true for Jason as he was a huge Mettalica fan, he shreds on the bass, great songwriter, singer and business man. I have not spoken to him since he left Metallica, Jay send me an email! [email protected]


Jason Newsted hangs back stage w/ TUFF at the OMNI in Oakland 1989.

Steve Carson a fan from the UK, Jorge DeSaint, Newkid, & Michael Lean.

7. Okay have at it, everyone wants to know…is Stevie Rachelle a total dick to deal with? Who found him, who put him in the group, and who the hell put him in charge over time? What’s the real on this ass jack?

Sometimes known as a stubborn German I guess, doesn’t that singer ego happen with most bands though! Not really that bad. He actually found us and flew out from Oshkosh, WI to audition; I liked him and thought he was the guy, Todd & Jorge I convinced a bit. He was more like our first singer (Terry Foxx) than our last (Jim Gillette). Stevie and I always shared rooms and Todd & Jorge shared, we (Stevie & I) would always be brainstorming ideas, etc on what to do next. Stevie wrote a bunch of great tunes and was and I guess still is the public focus around the name. Todd & Jorge were always writing songs and partying, having a great time. Stevie started handling more and more of the business stuff as I was winding down. After all these years, Stevie keeps Tuff alive though and mastermined a pretty cool Enquirer of Rock N Roll on the web!


Michael Lean & Stevie Rachelle = partners in crime & friends for life.

8. Now onto the Poison comparison. Was it good, bad or insignificant that many said Tuff was just really Poison junior? And did that have an affect on the band getting signed, or getting bigger over time?

I think we were at least a year late in getting signed and a year late to the real party selling a bunch of records and saying signed. We definitely had that “cloud” over us, but it did not stop us from always selling out multiple nights, and we got massive press and a huge fan base that allowed us to tour across the states multiple times BEFORE we had a record out, in a bus I may ad! So I think it helped and hurt.

9. What rock star deserves a big smack in the mouth and why?

No brainier to say Axl Rose. You go from a heroin junkie to a superstar and can not handle reality, give me a fuckin break! I saw them at the Roxy years ago, the guy was a total superstar back then, ad millions of dollars to the pocket, a set of new teeth and instant asshole!


Lean, Rachelle & Taime Downe back in the day!

10. Memory Lane:

1979 = Turned 12 got my first kit

1982 = Playing at party’s with Metal Maniacs, my first band I think?

1986  = Moved to Hollywood, my son was born

1989  = Selling out every place in L.A., touring in a bus around the States

1991 = ”What Comes Around” was released, more touring, MTV Video

1992 = Or so, writing songs with Gene Simmons at his house, that was

pretty cool!

1994  = Opened our store in Camarillo

1998 = Got married! Bought my first house

2000 = New Millennium

2003 = Opened our store in Mammoth

2005  = Our condo in Cozumel, MX. got hit by a hurricane!

11. Pick your Poison:

Bootleggars or The Mason Jar = Bootleggers, man we had some fun gigs and

fun times there!

Hair Spray or Eye Liner = BOTH

Big Fake Boobs or Small Perky Tits = Perky

Troubadour or Whisky A-Go-Go = Troubadour, paid our rent many of times,

thanks Gina.

Motley Crue or Guns n’ Roses = Motley

Jet Black Hair or Jet Black Coffee = Love a good cup of Joe

What comes around… or Religious Fix = What comes around

Playing drums or Making bagels = Playing drums for fun, Making Bagels For Dough!

Kid Rock or Eminem = Eninem

Day old bagels or Washed up rock stars = Bagels for sure!


Need anything fixed while I got the ladder out?


12. What do you remember about being interviewed for the Decline of Western Civilization Part II The Metal Years? And how did that come about?

I thought that was a killer idea by Penelope Spears, she liked the band a lot and put us on, I liked the mud wrestling! A trip to be in that Hotel!

13. Tell us about the day the bands truck was stolen and you lost a custom Sonor drum kit that cost a small fortune and more?

That sucked! We had our Rider stolen from a hotel parking lot in Memphis, right after returning home from England, come to find out the crew left the keys under the seat or some shit! They found the truck and all our stuff was burned as they torched the truck. I had a custom made purple Sonor kit, luckily I was endorsed and the guys @ Sonor gave me a new kit for the Lita Ford tour and built me a new one, that I still have today, and it still sounds great! That was an unbelievable life experience!

14. Name 2 bands from the Sunset Strip that should’ve got a record deal?

Trip Trigger, Warren Croyle Produced and guided Trip..Chick..oin Should Had Produced “What Comes Around”… and just maybe “Forever Yours would have NOT made the record..Good Guys Do Wear Black, Chick.oin!

The Wild, I liked them, Dizzle went on to sell a couple of records!

Numerous other great bands that I used to go out and check out, the names are a blur now!


A happy gang back stage in the bay area 1993. Left to right are Danny

Wilder (RIP), Michael, Jorge, Stevie & a fan named Riva Nixon (RIP).

Life is short folks, live each day and enjoy it, 2 of the smiles in this

photo are now gone forever. We miss you Danny & Riva.

15. Of all the bands you shared the stage with, who were the coolest, and

who were the biggest dicks to deal with?

I guess I am getting a case of C.R.S. (can’t remember shit), we played with a lot of great people most were very cool, I am sure there were a few dicks in the bunch!

16. Kill, Fuck, Merry! (Jessica Hahn, Jessica Simpson, Oj Simpson)

I guess I’d kill O.J. (do to one as they do to others), fuck Jessica Hahn , merry and then fuck Jessica Simpson too!

17. Name the 3 high points and the 3 lowest points of your music career to date?


#1. Getting Endorsements by D.W., Paiste, Pro-Mark and Sonor BEFORE I was signed, Thanks, Chris L., Rich M. and everyone else!

#2. Finally getting a record deal and a # 3 Video on MTV!

# 3. Touring, England Trip, Touring some More! 


#1.Taking forever to get a fucking record deal and a # 3 Video on MTV!

#2. Having all my shit stolen and burned to ash!

#3. Not having more record sales and staying signed!

What was your biggest ever musical related pay check for and what did you

buy with it?

That’s funny! Not much, I may have bought a tire for my Harley! 

Michael Lean always stylish. Tattoos, Booze and Bagels?


 19. Word Association:

Jim Gillette = Developer!

Todd Chase = BEER!

Brian Kushner = Chicks?

Randy Cantor = Mental Patient

Warren Croyle = Chick…oin

Debra Rosner = Press

Michael Raphael = Talent

Howard Benson = P.O.D.

Jorge DeSaint = Rocker!

Howie Hubberman = CASH

20. The Last of Michael Lean….

Last time you played a gig with Tuff = A long time ago!

Last fast food drive thru you ate = In N Out

Last time you played the drums = Yesterday

Last time you handed out a flyer = A long time ago!

Last time you signed an autograph = A long time ago!

Last 80s Cd you cranked up = Fair Warning

Last concert you watched from the crowd = Tom Petty

Last time you had diarrhea =
, back in the 80’s HAH!

Last rock star you shook hands with = Justin Timberlake @ my Mammoth store

Last time you visited Metal Sludge = Couple of days ago

Well of course I have something to say. I have to thank Michael for a lot. Most of what I learned about the music business in the early years was through him. Even though he was younger than I was, I looked up to Michael from day one. I knew he was more than just another guy with drum sticks. And for that again, I want to say Michael Lean you kick ass and it’s been great being your friend for almost 20 years now. Let’s get some dinner this week when you’re down in LA!


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