Tuff Jeff Salen

This “5 and Dime” interview was conducted over the phone with songwriter/guitarist Tuff Jeff Salen on January 27, 2006.

Jeff, you’re a New York City songwriter/guitarist and you recently released a solo record called “The Endless Road.” People might remember that you were an original member of the 1970’s punk rock band Tuff Darts. Introduce yourself, telling me where your musical history, or endless road, began. Also, talk about your early influences as a musician, and share a special story from the New York City music scene of the mid-1970’s.

I’m Jeff Salen and I was born in the Bronx, New York. In the 70’s, I started my musical journey working as a staff guitarist for David Bowie’s MainMan Productions in New York City. I was a hot-shot studio guitarist getting paid $85.00 a week. The British Invasion, mostly early Rolling Stones and The Beatles, had gotten me into music. I was kind of influenced backwards on guitar. I started with the Yardbirds guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Then, I switched to blues guitarists like Freddie King, Albert King. and B.B. King.

Two friends of mine from Queens, bass guitarist John DeSalvo and drummer Jim Morrison (THE OTHER Jim Morrison), formed Tuff Darts and asked me to join them. The band struggled for two years, but we did get to play on an Atlantic Records compilation called “Live at C.B.G.B.’s.” Tuff Darts’ record deal with Atlantic fell through, and our singer Robert Gordon left for his own deal with Private Stock Records.

I received an offer to play guitar on an album for The Sparks called “Big Beat,” which was a lot of fun to do. I turned down joining them on tour. My plan was to do their record and then re-form Tuff Darts, which we did. But Robert Gordon never came back, and we added Tommy Frenzy in his place. Robert did ask me to be his sideman, but I declined. I saw no future in that role, I knew Robert too well. Tuff Darts did get a record deal with Sire, and our album was one of the first recorded at the soon-to-be-legendary Power Station. It included two punk classics that I wrote, “All for the Love of Rock N’ Roll” and “(Your Love Is Like) Nuclear Waste.”

One of my favorite memories from back in the day was when my band with Tommy Ramone, called Butch, used to open shows for the New York Dolls. Their guitarist, the late great Johnny Thunders, was like a god in New York City. He dressed like, he looked like, and he acted like a British rock star. But he wasn’t British. I was a poor man’s Johnny Thunders. We hung out together all of the time and I got all of his leftovers: his clothes and his girls. If two girls from New Jersey were hanging out at Johnny’s pad on the lower East Side, he got the prettier one and I got the uglier one. But that was cool. He was better with the ladies, and I was the better guitar player.

Your band Tuff Darts is acknowledged as being part of the first wave of New York punk bands. With all of your various musical influences and all of the possible musical directions a band could have tried during the 70’s, what made Tuff Darts stick with that sound?
We were what we were, we did what we did. It was a hybrid of Robert Gordon wanting to be Elvis, me wanting to be the Stones or The Beatles, and our bassist John DeSalvo wanting to be John Entwistle. Our drummer, Jim Morrison, was the loudest drummer you ever heard. He was a killer and so impressive. Tuff Darts had to take it in the direction it went. You bring what you bring to the table, you compromise with each other, and if it catches on, you stick with it long enough until somebody breaks up the band.

It’s 2006, and a music fan somewhere is checking out your new record “The Endless Road,” and they are unfamiliar with the punk scene of the 70’s. Without getting into your musical background, how would you introduce and describe yourself to new listeners from a “now” instead of “then” perspective?

I’m a songwriter/guitarist from New York City. I try to make time stand still in every way. As a songwriter, I try to create something workable in any time period. I’m always looking for the perfectly crafted jewel of a song. I try to do strange things lyrically. As far as my guitar playing, I’m stuck in the 60’s. I try to stay ahead of the beat and I don’t play long guitar solos. I’m still one of the best dressed guys in rock and roll. So many retro bands today try to dress like and sound like the 1970’s. I’m timeless, I’ve already been there and done that.
What musical statement are you trying to make with your record “The Endless Road?” Also, pick apart a few of the songs and tell me all about them.

There is no particular musical statement, but my mission was that I had a backlog of material that I wanted to get out there. It was either going to be a blues album or a rock album, but the record company wanted rock. The ball started rolling when the Tuff Darts album was re-released a few years back. It did so well that we started on a demo, thinking about re-forming the band. The first two songs were from that, but with encouragement from my lawyer and the record label, it developed into my solo album. “All for the Love of Rock N’ Roll” and “The Endless Road” were recorded with the four Tuff Darts, my vocals, keyboards, and a slide guitarist named “Big” Ed Sullivan. I really never intended to sing, but people seem to like my voice because I sing from the heart. Another song, titled “Everything,” is my lawyer’s favorite. It was written in the studio. It’s basically a blues progression with an interesting turnaround. We used a click track, and Dave French from the French Cookin’ Blues Band played bass, slide and lead guitars. I added rhythm guitar and a dummy vocal, and we did it all in one night. We over-dubbed the drums, vocals, saxophone, and other guitar parts afterwards.
Feel free to promote where the record is sold, live appearances, your websites, and anything else that applies.

“The Endless Road” is on a real record label called Fountainbleu. It’s sold everywhere, including Amazon.com and Tower Records. I have a great publicist named Laura Kaufman, and I’m hoping to work with the New York Dolls’ booking agent who specializes in has-been acts like me. All the latest and up-to-date information can be found at www.tuffjeffsalen.com, www.fountainbleu.com, and www.laurakaufmanco.com. The Tuff Jeff Salen Band is yours truly, plus “Little” Chuck Hancock on sax, “Big” Chuck Magnus on guitar, “Ensign” Chuck Benson on drums, and “Mighty” Chuck Schoffel on bass. You can call us Tuff Jeff Salen and the Chucks, or even The Motherchuckers.” We’re playing at The Continental in New York City on April 8, 2006, and Tuff Darts plays there March 10, 2006. The Tuff Jeff Salen Band and other Fountainbleu artists are playing at the A&M Roadhouse in lower Manhattan on May 13.
This interview section was named "5 and Dime" as a tribute to Dimebag Darrell. The final question is used as a way to keep the memory of Dimebag alive and in our thoughts at all times. Please your thoughts on Dimebag.

His death was a tragedy. What a shame and what a way to go. And what a great name. How dare he have a cooler nickname than me. I liked Pantera. “Cemetary Gates” has the types of guitar solos that I’m known for. They’re structured and they build dramatically. That’s really what I like to do. I never met Dimebag so I have no interesting stories to tell. I’ll tell you this, I believe great guitar players never die. I know I don’t intend to.

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