After multiple installments of the Bonzo Bash, former Whitesnake drummer Brian Tichy discusses the thrills and ills of tribute shows. At the same time, he is pushing forward with Something Unto Nothing (S.U.N.), a classic rock—oriented group in which he writes all the music and plays all the instruments in the studio and guitar live. We caught up with Tichy-monster at home in Ventura, California, where he was kicking it with his ten-year-old twin daughters talking hero worship, leaving his longtime gig, and staying true to his musical vision.
The Bonzo Bash has been a battle since the beginning. When it started it was more like just get a rehearsal room with a bunch of your friends and some beer and film it. Then at the end of that first show [on September 25, 2010], I was like “That’s a lot of work!” Somebody has to be responsible for organizing it and being behind the scenes taking care of business. Sound checks, getting rehearsals together, the set list, keeping all the drummers informed, that all goes through me. Right now it’s a little disheartening to see that even if we sell out, we’re breaking even. When somebody like Gene Simmons would look at me and go “Dude, you’re seriously putting all this time into this thing and walking home with zero?” And I’m, “Well, I’ve even lost money.” [and then Simmons goes] “Uh, really? Because that’s not really a good business move.” I do have to work and make money and pay bills so it’s a hard thing to balance.
We tightened everything up a bit at this last show [during Winter NAMM show in Anaheim]. We made transitions where we asked drummers to be a little more flexible without being down to the centimeter of how high a cymbal stand is just to get it moving quicker. We threw some theatrics in there, too, like that whole part I do with “stick man” from the cover [of Led Zeppelin IV]. [Show host] Nicko McBrain is an idol of mine. That goes back to Piece Of Mind when he came on board, because I was already a Clive Burr fan. I had met him a couple times over the past couple years, but doing Marshall’s 50th [Anniversary with him] was really cool, because I got to be in a rehearsal situation with me playing and him having his kit next to mine. Just talking and hanging out and double-drumming a bit. I guess that way I got a little bit more of his respect, so I was like, “Hey, if you’re at NAMM, I’d love you to play …” he goes, “If I can do ’Immigrant Song,’ I’m in.” I’m like, “You got it.”
When you’re in a band as a hired gun, you’re not sitting there getting paid if you’re at home. In an interesting way, having the mountain bike accident – where I broke my collarbone and had to cancel the New Year’s Eve gig – helps you see things in your life more clearly. That may be a little heavy-duty sounding but it did make it somewhat easier to write to David [Coverdale, singer] and say, “Here’s why I’m not going out.” It wasn’t like I bailed in the middle of a tour. I’ve been doing this my whole adult life: touring and being in all these big popular rock bands. So this wasn’t anything new. I had been in Billy Idol and I opted to leave a few years ago. I had been in Foreigner, and opted to not continue with them. And it wasn’t like it was a problem. It was more along the same lines with Whitesnake.
When you write songs and think you have a shot with somebody like [S.U.N. lead singer] Sass Jordan, who’s a proven success and badass singer in her own right … when you look at that person and go, “Wait, She’s ready to give a hundred percent. So am I. If we don’t try this, we’re never going to know what we could’ve done!” I could have just been “Sass, we have a record out. We’ll do some club dates, we’ll do some press, but come April, I’m going back to Whitesnake.” That would suck for Sass to go home and go, “Great, I guess that’s as far as that went.” She would understand [if it came to that] because I’d say this is work. But I have to believe that I can get somewhere other than where I am now. I have to. We wouldn’t have a Whitesnake if Coverdale thought he was only the singer in Deep Purple. You wouldn’t have Rush if they went with the flow of whatever were the trends at the time.
People are like, “Dude! You’re a drummer, but you’re playing guitar?!” I mean, Paul McCartney plays bass, he plays guitar, he sings, he writes the best songs in the world, he plays piano, he’s a freak! I’m just playing drums and guitar – big deal. But that’s [what happens] when you’re associated with just being a drummer. Sully Erna from Godsmack was a drummer, and he’s up there playing guitar and singing. What about Dave Grohl? Charlie Benante from Anthrax: He’s writing all those Anthrax riffs, he’s playing guitar. I don’t know if he plays [guitar] on the records. Honestly, I shouldn’t say he does or doesn’t. But I know he writes tons of it. Maybe [doing drums and guitar] is not the norm, but I’m just saying that people want to get into something new. I’ve been doing guitar since seventh, eighth grade, like, just hardcore. I’m more than a drummer and I always have been.