An Interview with Tommi Gallo of Spread Eagle

Feature image courtesy of Tommi Gallo

Image courtesy of Tommi Gallo

Tommi Gallo’s long journey through Rock and Metal history hasn’t always been easy, but surely, it’s been nothing short of memorable.

While working on a record store in Boston, a chance meeting with local ax slinger, Paul DiBartolo, and later bassist, Rob DeLuca, may have seemed like just another one of lives small serendipities, but in reality, these meetings would alter the course of Rock and Metal history, and these men’s lives as they knew it.

It wasn’t until 1989, after the dissolution of local band, Bang, that DiBartolo found himself in NYC, after meeting singer, Ray West, the would-be east coast answer to Axl Rose, with the balls and punch to boot. it wasn’t long before DiBartolo summoned Gallo and DeLuca, and in doing so, the mighty Spread Eagle was formed, but more importantly, these four men, though only a street gang made up of kids in their twenties at the time, formed a brotherhood that would last a lifetime, no matter the distance, or differing ideologies.

In short order, Spread Eagles hard-partying, street-tough mentality manifested the molten lava spewing rager of a record in the band’s self-titled debut. While it might be easy to get lost in Paul DiBartolo’s riffs, Ray West screams, or Rob DeLuca’s tidy basswork and fantastic songsmith, it was Tommi Gallo’s tight, and hard-driving drumming that set the tone for the breakneck pace of the album.

Hard times and more hard-partying would ultimately find Gallo in and out of Spread Eagle, and eventually, on his spiritual journey toward happiness. But these days Tommi Gallo is alive and well, and still creating music, this time with local band, The Brooklyns.

In addition to his music, Tommi is also focusing on his other passion — his artwork. And most importantly, by all accounts, Tommi is on good terms with his old friends — his brothers — in and out of Spread Eagle.

While the original four members of Spread Eagle may have each forged their own paths and may find themselves in different parts of the world, the fact remains that the music they made will bond them forever and that those songs will stand the test of time. No one will ever be able to take that away from Paul, Ray, Rob, and Tommi.

And it’s in that spirit, that the mighty Spread Eagle rages on.

I finally caught up with Tommi recently, and among other things, we dug into his origins within the Boston music scene, meeting Paul DiBartolo, Rob DeLuca, and Ray West, joining Spread Eagle, recording the band’s debut, his journey after the end of the band, finding peace later in life, his newest music, and a while lot more.

Andrew:
Tommi, thanks for taking the time. As a burgeoning musician, what first gravitated to you toward the drums?

Tommi:
As a toddler, I was exposed to a lot of popular music. My grandfather and uncle had bands and I would watch, listen, and dance along. I sat behind a kit and played a beat along with some adult players and they started smiling. After that, I needed no encouragement from anyone anywhere! My drawing and sense of music have always felt like a birthright. I never thought about playing anything but drums. In later years, I would learn to play banjo and basic piano. There is nothing like the physical act of hitting things in the name of Rock ‘N’ Roll!

Andrew:
Paint a picture of your early days on the Boston music scene leading up to first meeting Paul DiBartolo?

Tommi:
Well, I moved to Boston in the fall of ’85. I slept in the kitchen of some friend’s place, and my girlfriend at the time set me up with living supplies and would visit me on the weekends. I got a job at a Strawberries record store with the help of a new friend. I’d run the register while doing my best to look like I belong in Hanoi Rocks. [Laughs]. Anyway, soon I heard from my roommate that Paul DiBartolo asked about me. I met with Paul, and he asked me if I liked Van Halen. I answered, “Yes,” and he explained that most shredders had no soul. He embodies his beliefs and to this day, still does.

Andrew:
It wasn’t long before you joined Paul’s group, Bang. Take me through your indoctrination into the group, and your early days working with Paul.

Tommi:
The early days of Bang were pure Rock stardom. We had chemistry and the best-looking girlfriends. [Laughs]. We did well in Boston. Paul wrote great songs, and our singer, Mike McGovern, was very good-looking and had pipes like Brad Delp.

Images courtesy of Tommi Gallo

Andrew:
My understanding is you hung around near the school Rob DeLuca was attending. What were your first impressions upon meeting him?

Tommi:
I didn’t go to school for music…well maybe the Casablanca Records school of music. [Laughs]. See, Rob went to Berkeley College of Music where he developed tremendously. My first impression of Rob was, “Wow! The girls are gonna love this band!!!” [Laughs].

Andrew:
Bang was something of a local favorite and even garnered some major label attention, but ultimately, the band didn’t hit nationally. What wrong? What led to the decision to call it quits?

Tommi:
We oversaturated the “market.” We shoulda signed right away. Then we could have developed. But hey, if we did there’d be no Spread Eagle! I think Mike quitting made everything easier for things to progress, and move forward.

Andrew:
After the end of Bang, Paul ventured to NYC, while you and Rob stayed behind, right? In that time, what were your plans for your next move before you got the call to head to NYC and join Spread Eagle?

Tommi:
After Paul left, I worked in the kitchen at Pizzeria in Kenmore Square. I don’t remember having a plan. Rob and I had talked about carrying on as “Pagan Gods.” A name Rob thought of. Paul settled into NYC, and of course, a great vocal talent in Ray West was drawn to him. They had some songs.

Images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (Official)

Andrew:
Take me through the formation of Spread Eagle from your perspective. How did you, Paul, Ray, Rob come together to form the band?

Tommi:
Rob and I were invited to demo some songs. Soon, we moved there. We rehearsed in an underground studio and recorded there too. We had a manager who owned property in NYC. I can’t remember his name though.

Andrew:
While three-quarters of the band was from Boston and knew each other, Ray was from NYC. What was your first impression of Ray West?

Tommi:
My first impression was he was unique! He had a gritty voice. He had a sound that was LA Glam Metal. The first time I heard Ray sing, I heard Stephen Pearcy with teeth. I thought, “Put him together with an east coast band like us, and we really might be onto something!”

Andrew:
After the formation of the band, it wasn’t long before Spread Eagle had a major label deal. MCA signed you before you even had an album’s worth of songs written. What led to the decision to go with MCA, and what was the auditioning process like?

Tommi:
I remember meeting Bruce Dickinson of MCA at our underground rehearsals. He brought along a woman from MCA who said, “I find you offensive, but I have to sign you.” Money talks. [Laughs].

Images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (Official)

Andrew:
In my chat with Rob, he described your rehearsal space conditions as being pretty grim, and apparently, one of his bass guitars was even stolen around this time. If you can, paint a picture of the conditions the members of Spread Eagle were living and working in leading up to the recording of the debut.

Tommi:
Rob and I shared an apt in NYC. Our road manager, Swan, lived there too. It was old and had hardwood floors. We lived by the water, so it’s no surprise to find out we had rats in the kitchen ripping up the trash. I slept in a loft so I was safe. [Laughs].

Andrew:
How did the street gang mentality of the band, and tough living conditions affect the writing of the music and lyrics for the band’s debut? It seems each song tells tales of the city, so to speak? Can you further elaborate?

Tommi:
There was definitely a sense of camaraderie, and we knew we were good. That debut album reminds me of KISS’ Destroyer because of its Rock mythology that I think you talk of. I think Rock mythology is a big part of it all.

Andrew:
Take me through the recording of Spread Eagle’s self-titled debut record, which is retrospectively looked back on as one of the eras defining albums. 

Tommi:
I think The Record Plant was at its end, but anyway, there I am too high on coffee, staring at gold records by John Lennon, Alice Cooper, and The Who, and I’m thinking, “Wow. The Record Plant!” As far as equipment goes, I used a pink Tama Rockstar kit, which had one kick, and a double kick pedal. I was twenty-six and recording an album. I wasn’t ready. I never have been! Of course, I can laugh about it all now!

Image courtesy of Tommi Gallo

Andrew:
I wanted to talk about the cover art for the self-titled record. That was designed by you, right? The art depicts the broken city vibe and aesthetic of the album. Tell me more about the creation of the cover art, and ultimately, how it came to be what we see on the album.

Tommi:
There’s been some talk about whether I should be credited for the cover or not. I accepted the credit, the rest is history. I did work hard on conceptually trying to design it. I’m surprised it wasn’t mentioned during 911, to be honest.

Andrew:
Spread Eagle developed a cult status in the aftermath of the debut album’s release, but still, the album didn’t seem to climb the charts as it should have. Is there anything you would change?

Tommi:
Well from my point of view, the drum tracks aren’t radio solid. My meter was erratic. I don’t know…the drum tracks on the first LA Guns are a mess too. I don’t know — there was a lot of partying!

Andrew:
How big of a contributing factor was the Grunge movement to Spread Eagles fortunes?

Tommi:
That’s a hard one! I think we got bunched in the wrong genre. We weren’t a Hair Metal band. I’m not sure what defines a “Hair Metal band.” [Laughs]. As far as radio play goes…we were given a steak through the heart.

Andrew:
After a heavy touring cycle for the debut, you left Spread Eagle around 1992, before the recording of Open To The Public. Ultimately what factors led to the fracture?
Open To The Public seems to be lacking a bit in the drums department, even with the talented Tommy Price handling duties. Would you agree?

Tommi:
Well, Paul got married and so did I. I was a basket case and wasn’t easy to be around. [Laughs]. In respect to Tommy, it was great to hear them playing with the drummer of “I Hate Myself For Loving You” and “Rebel Yell.” But I have a lot of favorite records that are really raw in retrospect. A great song will come through anyway! It’s a catchy album.

Images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (Official)

Andrew:
You did rejoin the band after the release of Open To The Public and stuck around until a run down to Florida where you left again for good. Take me through that sequence of events.
After you left the band, how did you ride out the remainder of the decade?

Tommi:
Yes, I came back. I learned the tracks. I partied and toured. I left to float around and “find myself.” I spent a while selling seafood at Publix. GROUPIES TO GROUPERS! [Laughs]. For a while in ’94, I lived in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. I’d had a demented Rockabilly band that I could never sell.

Andrew:
Spread Eagle reformed in 2006, but both yourself, and Paul declined to participate. What went into that decision? Were you asked to rejoin?

Tommi:
Well, I moved to Worcester with my partner Paula. I filled the hole I’d dug with painting and poetry.  Nothing too pretentious, mostly Dylan and Cohen and sprinkled with a little Townes Van Zandt. I held a job for many years, but I eventually hit a wall of misery in 2009 and was admitted to the legendary Westwood Lodge after being treated surgically for a near-fatal battle with depression. My arms were sutured up. I had had enough. Soon, I found a book about Zen and Love, and holes began to disappear. I was never easy to find back then. I lived in a relationship that had no internet usage. Therefore I was never contacted. 

Andrew:
These days you’re still playing drums, and are a member of the Brooklyn’s. Tell us where you’re at musically today as a drummer, and how you came to be a member of your new band.

Tommi:
Yes. I still get to play drums with the help of everybody!!! It’s all connected now. I’m playing with some fantastic people that are on top of their game. Everything I’ve learned over the last twenty years, I’m bringing to this band. True, but it’s really a blessing to do what I do with the people I know. Recently, I struck up a friendship with a guy named Doug Batchelder, who owns, and runs a recording studio. He’s friends with Tom and Mo Leger (the singers in The Brooklyns). Doug put the word out (I think), and the rest is jamming, and occasionally gigging. Now, I spend time practicing smarter and playing pocket drumming.

Image courtesy of Tommi Gallo

Andrew:
The Brooklyns have an album out, Loney Hearted Heart. Tell us more about the album.

Tommi:
Lonely Hearted Heart is a great album. This tells me I’ve made a great decision. I’m a Brooklyn. I get them. I am a fan. I didn’t join the band until after they recorded it. Listen to this…the guitarist sings lead and drums on this recording. That’s Tom Leger. You talk about someone being a force! He’s the Yin to Mo’s Yan. There are two singers in this band, and that’s what makes this band so good.\

Andrew:
Where do things stand today regarding your art career?

Tommi:
I’ve been painting more lately, and I notice what I’m experiencing on the drums, I’m experiencing at the easel. For me, it’s time management. I really should start a website for my art sales! 

Andrew:
Last one, Tommi. What’s next for you in all lanes?

Tommi:
These days, I’m spending a lot of time with my wife Kat, besides painting, working, and drums. When COVID fades, maybe things’ll pick up. In the meantime, I’ll just go on enjoying life!

Image courtesy of Tommi Gallo

Interested in diving into Spread Eagles’ classic debut record? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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