Interview: Todd “Chase” Chaisson of Tuff at Hair Nation Festival


Cover of Tuff's album featuring recent lineup and look - Todd pictured left.
Cover of Tuff’s album featuring recent lineup and look – Todd pictured left.
Early afternoon at the Hair Nation Festival, Tuff was one of the bands that kicked off all the action. Later that night, I got an interview with Tuff bassist and founding member Todd “Chase” Chaisson and we talked about everything from Tuff to Todd’s bass-playing family and his food truck – featuring a surprise guest appearance.

Festivals seem to be what’s going on with Tuff lately – you had 80’s in The Park last month, Farm Rock coming up, Monsters of Rock Cruise next month and of course you’re here at Hair Nation Festival today. Pretty busy schedule, you guys pumped to be out there playing these festivals?

This is kind of like our bread and butter. Tuff doesn’t tour all year long, say, for example, like a Faster Pussycat or whoever. We do 15, 20, 30 dates a year and they’re all flyaway dates, because I live in Cleveland, the band’s based out of Los Angeles, so…I fly in, we do this type of show, I go back to Cleveland, I come back, we do the Monsters of Rock Cruise, I fly and go back, we do Farm Rock…it’s that kind of thing. I love this, which is good for me, and good for us. We’re not an everyday band anymore as far as touring or being active that way. So I love this, this is my kind of jam, and we have a private space where we can do our thing, run away and do our life thing, come back and do this thing, so it’s all good.

Good, so you prefer this kind of thing rather than touring regularly?

You know, if I was 18, I’d love to be touring regularly, or if I was 25, or whatever age is appropriate to be out there just hammering it down, but I’ve done that. Tuff is about to be thirty years old, so I’ve done this a long time. And for me, it’s good to do the flyaway dates. Being in this environment doesn’t bother me, it’s not that it’s bothersome for the band, we love this, we feed on this, but you know, we’re not the biggest band in the world. Tonight was probably the biggest stage we ever played on. So to come out and do these shows is the perfect environment for us, we do this 20-30 times a year, and it works out just great.

Awesome. So you mentioned Tuff is about to be 30 years old, doing anything special for the 30th Anniversary at all?

Probably spaghetti and pizza.

You know what, that’s always great, though.

…which is great for me. But, I mean, I don’t know. Everybody wants to know if we’re going to do another record, or if we’re going to do new music, and…it’s always on the table to do something like that, but when people come to see Tuff, they want to hear what they know Tuff for. So they want to hear “American Hair Band”, “All New Generation”, “Good Guys Wear Black”, stuff like that, so we feed them what they want to be fed, and we do the job that needs to be done.

So I do want to ask you about your musical background, what got you into music originally, pre-Tuff and all, how’d you get into it?

I come from a trilogy of bass players, so…I’m the baby, my brother just older than me is Kenny, he was in Keel, and my oldest brother Greg is in Badlands. So, all of us bass players all the time. My oldest brother Greg, who, in my opinion, and probably in a lot of people’s opinions, is the greatest bass player in the world, to me, for heavy metal. You know, there’s Billy Sheehan, there’s Geezer Butler, and there’s Greg Chaisson. Greg, who just beat cancer. He had Stage 4 cancer recently, and he beat it.

That’s amazing that he beat it, wow.

He’s a tough guy…no pun intended.

Hey, “Tuff”, right. (laughs)

Right. But, it all came from him, so you know, he grew up listening to Sweet, or…not really sure what Greg’s playlist is. He did something on Facebook where he listed all of his favorite bass players, of which I don’t know any of them because mine are a second generation after that, like…Michael Anthony, Geezer Butler, Steve Harris, those are my guys. And probably many of Kenny’s guys too – Greg’s a different generation beyond that, before us. But if I see Greg playing bass, I’m just like “Are you fucking kidding me” – and this is Howie Simon!

[At this moment, the trailer door opens and guitarist Howie Simon pokes his head in and proceeds to give me a stare I can best describe as a glaring side-eye of suspicion…this was the exchange that followed:

Todd: Hi, Howie, come on in! You need a refresher.

Howie: No, no, no, I just…I saw people in here, I’m making sure nobody’s stealing…

Todd: Howie came in here earlier and there was a bunch of people in here stealing all of our gear.

Me: Oh my God, really?

Todd: (shakes his head “no”)

Howie: Yep, that’s why. I saw something, and…

[Howie’s suspicious glare intensifies as a long silence ensues and grows more awkward by the moment]

Todd: (laughs)

Me: (laughs) …All right. Listen, I’m okay, you can trust me.

Todd: I can’t wait to see the translation of this from audio to…however this is done.

Me: It’s going to be transcribed. I’ve got to figure out a description for that look.

Todd (while grabbing his phone): Right? Hold on, Howie, come here!

[Todd is now trying to get a picture to capture “that look” while Howie is leaving the trailer, protesting and refusing to let Todd take the picture. Todd eventually wins and gets a picture, but promises that it’s just for himself. Howie has now left, and Todd and I proceed with the interview as we were.]

Todd: 80’s Hair Metal…well, Howie’s actually not Hair Metal, Howie sat in with us this weekend, he’s from Alcatrazz, and he’s a guitar shredder legend type of guy, so he’s awesome. He’s sitting in with us this weekend, and he’s going to do some shows with us in December, so this is…my first experience dealing with Howie on the road.

Got you. Well, I think you’ve learned a little something now – don’t know what, but…

Well, he’s protective, so I like that.

That’s good, yeah. He’ll watch your gear for you.

So, how I came to be in music? It was a rainfall of brother to brother to brother, we’re all bass players, and I couldn’t be more fortunate.

Todd, in addition to playing in Tuff, you’ve also got a food truck, Smokin’ Rock n’ Roll, talk to me about that, how’d you get started with it?

Well, Smokin’ Rock n’ Roll is me and Billy Morris. Billy Morris was the guitar player in Warrant for ten years, he lives in Cleveland, he was Jani Laine’s best friend and he’s now my best friend. Jani, unfortunately, is gone and I’ve stepped in and taken Billy’s heart, Billy’s my boy. So I moved to Cleveland five years ago after living in LA for 25 years, I met my wife on tour in Cleveland, and then we moved back to Cleveland after living in LA for a number for years. So, we’re in the studio doing some Tuff stuff, and talking about food, and I’m…not bragging, but I’m a fantastic home cook. I can do some shit. And Billy’s a fantastic home barbeque guy, so we talked and I had a concept for a food truck, he had a concept for a food truck, and together we came up with Smokin’ Rock n’ Roll. Actually, that wouldn’t be fair – he came up with Smokin’ Rock n’ Roll and I said I can work with that. So Smokin’ Rock n’Roll’s all about Heavy Metal, or Hard Rock – 80’s Hard Rock – and food. We’ve got sandwiches called the Master of Piglets, Look What The Pig Dragged In, Judas Beef, The Boss, Fleetwood Mac-and-cheese, stuff like that.

That’s cool, I was looking at the website and saw those on the menu, and I thought, “Okay, now that is really clever”, I wanted to ask you, who came up with the names, was it you two guys together?

A little bit of us, but probably, I’ve got to give credit to my wife. She’s very creative so she comes up with a lot, like, we have a mascot, the truck is all outlined with a pig and fire and guitars and stuff, so she’s like, “We should call him Shredder”, since we shred pork, and I’m like, “That’s great!”. But our top dish, our signature dish is our Judas Beef, which is two beef brisket sliders with honey red cabbage, horseradish aioli and peppered pickle chips. And they’re awesome. So, the food truck thing, me and Billy, we love cooking, we love music, so how could we combine the two things we love together, and take that to the street ‘cause we’re street guys. You know, music is being on the street, and food is being on the street these days if you’re going to do the food truck. The food truck has been wildly successful for us.

There’s a food truck rock carnival in New Jersey this month, the second year of it, any plans to check that out at all?

I would love to do that, but we’re so busy in Cleveland that I don’t have to go anywhere. And Cleveland is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Capital of the world, which is weird because when we’re in Cleveland, there’s some trucks that have a slight rock ‘n’ roll theme to them, but nobody is really doing the rock ‘n’ roll thing, so Billy being the guitar player for Warrant for ten years, me being the founding member of Tuff, combining all of that into Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, and beef and pork, and all of that stuff, we really don’t have to go anywhere because we’re busy 80-120 hours out of the week.

That’s great, and busy equates successful in most cases, so that’s a good thing.

We’re very successful and we’re blessed. Billy’s not with us this weekend, normally Billy would be with us. It just so happens that Billy has to run the truck, and I’m here. So Billy will do the Cruise with us in two weeks, The Monsters of Rock Cruise, and Howie won’t be with us, but right now Howie was available. So, Billy’s running the truck, I’m doing the band thing, but it all rolls back into the joint partnership of Smokin’ Rock ‘n’ Roll, Tuff, Warrant, Heavy Metal, and food.

So back to this festival, today, did you have a chance to check out any of the other bands, and I’ve actually been asking everyone this but, anyone you were looking forward to seeing today?

You know, I really wanted to see Vain, but we’re on a rotating stage on the Main Stage, so they were on right after us, so I did not get to see Vain, which was disappointing. I’ve seen all these guys and, we were talking with the guys from SiriusXM earlier about what it means to be here and be involved in this, and it’s like a family reunion. I can walk up and down this trailer park, and I’ll see Chad from Faster Pussycat, I’ll see Chip from Enuff Z’Nuff, I saw Bret Michaels on the side of the stage, who wrote a song on our record. So, we see all these guys, I mean, I look forward to seeing all of them, but everybody’s here working, so…there’s not really a chance to break away and go see anything. If I’m going to be honest, the only band I took a minute to go see was Pretty Boy Floyd. Steve [Summers] and Stevie [Rachelle] are really good friends, and I love Pretty Boy Floyd, so that’s really the only band I got to see tonight. I wanted to see Vixen, I really wanted to see Yngwie, but we were doing the meet-and-greet, but I just want to see Yngwie tear that shit up.

Yngwie’s amazing, honestly.

I can imagine! I’ve never seen him! And he was on during our meet-and-greet, so I did not get to see Yngwie.

And I actually had another interview during Yngwie’s set, so I missed most of it. I’ve seen him once before though.

I’ve only seen him on YouTube, you know, doing orchestra shit and stuff like that, and I’m just like, “Ohhh, I can’t WAIT to see Yngwie” but then…meet-and-greet…

Oh, so close yet so far. Isn’t the meet-and-greet area right around there too?

Well, we were probably sitting right behind him, but I couldn’t hear him because, you know, there’s just a line of people coming down. But, you know, I love to see Vixen, and…any band on the roster here tonight, I would love to see. But the only band I cut out in literally two songs worth of time was Pretty Boy Floyd.

Well, at least you caught some of something you wanted to see.

Yeah, but Yngwie would have been at the top of my list. Him and Kix, which we’re probably missing right now.

Oh yeah, Kix is out there now.

But, I’m with Kix in Dallas in December, so I’ll catch up.

So just to close things off, give an idea of what to expect coming up from Tuff in the near future.

Again, we’re a part-time band at this point, so, Stevie has his life…me and Stevie are Tuff, so we do our 15-30 shows a year, and we’re doing Hair Nation live right now, Monsters of Rock Cruise in a week and a half from now, Rock ‘n’ Skull in October…and that’s what we do. We could write new songs, but they just want to hear “Hair Band”, “All New Generation”, “I Hate Kissing Goodbye”, and I’m happy to play those songs whenever I get a chance to do that.

Nice. All right, thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

Thank you.

Find more on Tuff at their Facebook page and website.

Check out my review of the Hair Nation Festival here.

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