While rock historians imagine what Keith Moon or John Bonham could have achieved had they not checked out early, another legendary drummer (who despite his excesses managed to flip the finger to the Grim Reaper) is enjoying a heap of midlife success. His third solo album due in August along with a new TV show, not to mention a best-selling memoir and sold-out shows leading off the 2005 Mötley Crüe reunion tour. Tommy Lee hasn't simply beaten the odds, he's damn well thrashed them, making it improbable for any rock percussionist to follow.
His latest album stands as a sonic accomplishment by itself. Tommyland: The Ride, due on store shelves August 9, is a highly listenable collection of rock-driven tunes, some infused with pop, electronica and other flavors, that chart the foibles of romance, celebrity and life in general. The album follows two distinctly different solo efforts: Methods of Mayhem (1999), a mélange of rock, hard house, industrial and hip-hop that reflected Lee's desire "to do everything I ever wanted to do" after 20 years with the Crüe; and Never A Dull Moment (2002), a more focused, "from the heart" album including the tune "Blue," written for his father who had recently passed away.
And then there's the reunion of Mötley Crüe, which has energized thousands of fans worldwide, recalling the zenith of the band's fame in the '80s and '90s. The "Red, White & Crüe Tour 2005: Better Live Than Dead," presented by VH1 and VH1 Classic, has already sold out U.S. arenas and is currently working its way toward Europe and Australia. It returns to the U.S. to hit more than 40 amphitheatres in August and September before wrapping up in southeast Asia this November and December. "After being away from each other for more than six years, I was real apprehensive about this tour," says Lee. "But it was comfortable the first day we got together, and given the fan response, the whole thing has been way above and beyond my expectations." Motley's recently released anthology album, Red, White & Crue, is certified platinum.
A native of Athens, Greece who moved to Southern California with his parents two years later, Thomas Lee Bass surely raised expectations in his parents early on - when he was "tall enough to reach the silverware drawer" he wasted no time transforming eating utensils into drumsticks. While his parents provided young Tommy with drum and piano lessons, his father, a mechanic, showed an extra measure of support by giving up the garage and building his son a soundproof room within it to practice. The rest, of course, is rock history...
At 17, Lee teamed with bassist Nikki Sixx, guitarist Mick Mars and singer Vince Neil, naming themselves Mötley Crüe (the umlauts were intended to make them look tough). With a knack for creating fists-in-the-air anthems, the band recorded their first album, Too Fast for Love, which was released in November 1981 on their own Leathür Records label. Picked up by Elektra, the Crüe released a string of classic albums in the '80s, beginning with Shout at the Devil (1983), controversial for its satanic elements, and Theatre Of Pain (1985), a slightly darker, more introverted record. However, Girls, Girls, Girls (1987) was as rock 'n roll as anything they'd done before and, together with 1989's enormous Dr. Feelgood, catapulted the band into the mainstream.
Tommy Lee devotes most of his free time these days toward his two children, Brandon and Dylan. While appreciating a more normal life, he nonetheless bemoans the lack of originality among rock stars. "Everyone kind of sounds the same and looks the same. I mean, where are the Mick Jaggers, the David Bowies?" laments Lee, who also notes how comfortable rock performers have become. "In rock there's got to be some element of danger, like, 'Is this guy going to make it through the show tonight?' Beyond the music, that's what makes it exciting. Come on, guys! Step it up a notch! "