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Interview with Michael Scott Nelson

Michael Scott Nelson of TUFF / 1988 / Kill Country and other notable acts talks about drums, music, and his family.


From the studio to the road, Michael talks about balancing his career with his family and spending time with his 5 year old grandson, Sid, who was diagnosed with Autism in 2013.

What band’s/projects are you currently working with?    I am currently drumming for several projects. The busiest of all of these would be my 80’s Hard Rock / Hair Metal tribute band called “1988”. This is a band based out of Cleveland, Ohio where I currently reside. This band averages about

80 to 110 shows per year, and play’s throughout the state of Ohio and surrounding states from nightclubs, to festivals, to private occasions.  I am also the drummer for the band “TUFF”. Tuff is a nationally touring band that made its biggest impact throughout the 80’s, boasting several charting hit songs, and is still to this day, touring on a regular basis. I started with this band earlier this year (March 2014). In fact, it is because of this band, I had the pleasure of meeting you and was introduced to the wonderful world of “WE ROCK FOR AUTISM”.  The other project that I’m involved with, currently, is called “Kill County”. This is an original writing and recording project that Todd Chase (bassist for TUFF) and myself, started about a year ago in Cleveland with 2 other very talented musician friends of ours. The music we are currently writing in this project lends itself toward a more modern/progressive rock side. Very cool project.

What bands have you been in, in the past? There have been ALLOT! I guess, most notably, a band called “New Wave Nation” from Canton, Ohio. This, also, is a regionally touring 80’s New wave / dance / rock tribute that performs around 120 shows per year. They still have a full line-up and maintain that schedule and are great friends of mine to this day as well.  Also, I’d like to mention a group called “Icarus Witch” from my hometown, Pittsburgh, Pa.  (Yes I’m a huge Steelers fan).

This is an original Metal band that I only had a short stint with. The travel was the main issue for my departure.

How old were you when you staring playing drums, and who are your primary influences? Well, I started at the age of about 8 yrs old. My mom and dad purchased a snare drum for me to play in the school band. I remember not being very good at it! I was more interested in the whole drum kit approach to be perfectly honest. It wasn’t until they bought my older brother a drum set 2 years later that I really dove in to it. I would sneak downstairs when my brother wasn’t home and just play and play. I loved it. He didn’t! My father played a little guitar, but was always encouraging me to keep up on it. He wouldn’t really allow Hard rock or Metal music to be played in the house, so the earliest music I got the chance to play to were from artists like Jan and Dean, Elvis, the Beach Boys, Count Basie, and all kinds of Doo Wap artists. So very early on my influences were not of Rock drummers at all. Guys like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich to Ed Shaughnessy (Tonight Show drummer, Johnny Carson era). These were the guys my father said were the best, so to me…..they were the best. To this day, I still play the snare tiled forward like the Jazz and Big Band drummers did simply because of how my father set up the drum kit for me. It’s  funny, if another drummer sits in for a few tunes behind my kit, you can hear them all say…”How the hell do play these things?” out of almost everyone of them.  A few years later, my brother went on the learn guitar, and the drums stayed with me. I ended up buying my own set in high school, and played with those a good number of years. Speaking of which, it was in the early years of high school where my influences started to change into the rock music that so engulfed me. Bands like Van Halen, Rush, and Whitesnake were the thing to listen to. So Neil Peart, Alex Van Halen and Tommy Aldridge were my favorites at that time. But never forgetting guys like Keith Moon (The Who) and Ginger Baker (Cream) as well. There are so many that I truly copied from and tried to mimic.  Even to this day, playing professionally in my 40’s, I still revert back to those very same players. They started something in me that I’ll never stop doing. I can’t stop doing. I often reflect on videos and old recordings of these great players and draw inspiration from them to help my playing today.

How do you balance your music career with family?  Well Chris, to be honest with you, I can’t say with 100% certainty I do!  It’s very difficult to even get close to a true balance. I’ll say this, however, I have an over compassionate and understanding wife and daughter, whose patients with my music is un-measurable. They accept time away with them on a regular basis to pursue my dreams of getting to play the drums. I am truly thankful to them and for them, every day! I still manage to run my business during the week, so I am home, and I do get to spend quality time, but every weekend, and multiple weeks out of the year I’m out on the road and its gets tough. I miss allot of the family get together, but we make it work. They all believe in me and what I’m passionate about and we find a way to make it all work in the end.

You have a grandson with Autism, Tell us about him.   His name is Sid and he just turned 5 this past October. He was diagnosed October, 2013. We noticed that he wasn’t as verbal as most children around 2-3 years old. Sensitivity to noise, and sudden tantrums. It took a while to get a formal diagnosis because he was so young. He’s just the perfect little blond haired, blued eyed little man!  He is such a pleasant boy. You would never know by looking at him that he has Autism. He’s is somewhat verbal, but getting better at that every day. He loves music, loves to smile and laugh. Laughter is HUGE in our house. We sing all the time with him and to him. Like most, he is very repetitive in the food he eats, the shows and movies he watches, and toys he enjoys playing with. He is a very good listener, and follows directions well for a boy his age. He is really into his ABC’s right now. Toilet training seems to be on track too.  As of now, he is enrolled pre-school and is mainstreamed with some typical kids, as well as a speech therapy class that he attends daily.

How has your knowledge or outlook on Autism changed since your grandson’s diagnosis?  As far as knowledge of the disorder, I knew nothing about it prior to his diagnosis. I was most certainly aware of its existence and was sympathetic for those who had been touched by it. I have only been involved formally with it now for about a year. My outlook on Autism, at this point, is this……It’s not a death sentence of sorts. I feel it can be a manageable part of our life. I have already witnessed the results of getting education and implementing the education to what works best for our family. Every day is a learning curve for us. As Sid grows, the disorder grows with him, and his needs will change, and so will the way we handle them. I look forward to the day that he may want to get involved in helping people effected by Autism.

Does he like music? Any particular genre or bands the he enjoys? He most definitely like’s music. As far as bands, well he’s 5, so pretty much anything Walt Disney throws at us, he’s into. He will sing the songs from Frozen, Madagascar, all the way to The Nightmare before Christmas and Veggie Tales. His NaNa (my wife Patti) has even got him singing along to Miranda Lambert in the car! Country…..who’d a thunk it!

Speaking of family, Your brother Keith is the guitar player for Buckcherry, correct? That is correct. He co-founded the band in the early 90’s, and continues writing, recording and touring to this day. I’m very proud of him. He is truly my hero on so many levels. It’s definitely a “small town boy makes good” story. Surprisingly, we never played officially in a band together growing up. Once he learned guitar, we would jam here and there, but that was it. I did audition for a hometown group he was in. It was his first real working band back in Pittsburgh, but i didn’t make the cut! No Alex and Eddy hear! LOL! I ended up moving to Atlanta to pursue music, and he to L.A. shortly after. I think that we would both enjoy performing together to some degree at some point. You never know what the future holds!

You are now in TUFF, touring and playing shows, how has it been playing with them? An absolute blast! I can’t even begin to tell you how blessed I feel to be able to be a working musician in this day and age. These guys are fantastic musicians as well as friends. It’s a tremendous chemistry that we have, and the shows thus far have been great.  TUFF is all about the live show. The interaction with the audience, on and off the stage, is totally pro.  As I mentioned earlier, I worked with Todd “Chase” in several projects prior to TUFF, and when he had asked me to fill the void, I was all in!  It’s a real privilege to work with Billy and Stevie as well. Both are seasoned veterans of road, and all of them welcomed me aboard most graciously. I’m stoked at the whole opportunity!

Being in the 80’S Hard rock tribute band “1988” must keep you busy. How many shows do you play with them, and how does that effect your touring with TUFF?  Drumming with “1988” is also a tremendous opportunity. Once again, all the musicians in this band are very talented and great friends off the stage as well. We usually play between 80 – 100 shows per year….give or take. We mostly play the weekends, with the occasional Thursday and Sunday shows. When I had decided to join TUFF, it was important to me that I made sure I could still accommodate the “1988” schedule as much as possible. The TUFF commitments are planned out far in advance, so that anyone with additional commitments can plan accordingly. Cleveland has a great networking community of musicians so that when subs are needed to fill in, there is always someone that can do it. We use the same guy every time, so it works. The “1988″ guys are very supportive of my joining TUFF, and we work together to cover all the bases.

What are some of your hobbies / past times? I’m an avid motorcyclist. I currently own a Harley Davidson Street-bob. I must admit that I don’t get out on it as much as I like. Recently, I’ve gotten into shooting, specifically pistol shooting. I am in the process of training now, and hope to be shooting in a competitive level within the coming months. I also enjoy cooking a great deal. In fact, I went thru a culinary program just after high school and dropped out to move to Atlanta to pursue music. My mom was happy about that! Nevertheless, she loves my made from scratch meatball’s and sauce!

What would you like to tell our readers? Anything they should know or any advice you could give?  As I said earlier, Autism should never be treated with a “Death sentence” mentality. It’s not the end of the world for these people, by any means. If anything life has taught me thus far, it’s that we are never given more than we can handle. Ever. Sure, life does in fact throw a curve ball now and then, but that’s what life is…..living. Good, bad, and ever thing in between. I would say too that we should try to educate ourselves about Autism as much as we can. Mainly by talking with others that are in the same boat as we are. Reading literature, and listening to the experts is fine and good, but it’s the “mother down the street” that has a handle on how it really is. She is living it day in and day out. Ask her how she manages.   Get involved with  as many programs that your time allows. I will add this as well; love each other, till it hurts. We only have one go-round in this life and we need to make the biggest impact we can for others to follow. PRAY. Even if you’re not into a specific religion, connect with YOUR higher power, ask for guidance, ask for patients, and ask for grace. Love your child with everything you have inside you. Sometimes when there are no words, a hug and kiss from you will speak volumes to them.