BRETT TUGGLE  -  IN TUNE WITH FLEETWOOD MAC

Brett Tuggle has one of the most enviable sideman gigs in showbiz. As Fleetwood Mac’s touring keyboardist since 1997, his workday involves bringing some of rock’s best-loved songs to audiences around the world.

“When Christine McVie retired, everybody wondered if it would be the same,” Brett says. “Well, it’s really never going to be the same without her, but there are still a lot of chapters left in the book of Fleetwood Mac. Almost all the gigs are sold out, and at this point it transcends generations. The audience includes everyone from kids in their early 20s all the way up to people in their 70s!”
Just as the band’s songs have taken on the mellow glow of rock classics, some of Fleetwood Mac’s famously volatile personal dynamics have softened over time. “There’s a sense that they’ve put aside a lot of the drama,” Tuggle observes. “You’ve got these key members, and they’re all part of this long-running soap opera. I see younger people staring up at the stage, trying to figure it out: ‘Are they getting along? Are they happy now? Are you sure nobody’s sleeping together?’ It’s pretty funny. But everybody’s playing well together, and there’s a sense of camaraderie onstage. It makes for a really nice experience in every show.”

Brett has also toured and recorded with both Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks on their solo projects, playing guitar and bass and contributing backing vocals in addition to keyboards. And they’re far from the only high-key performers he’s worked with: Tuggle’s credits also include lengthy stints with Rick Springfield and David Lee Roth. In fact, he co-wrote Roth’s hit song, “Just Like Paradise.”

“Dave was really open to songs and ideas,” Brett recalls, “so I put down a few songs and asked Steve Vai, who was the guitarist at the time, to add some guitars. I did a little mix and took the cassette tape in before rehearsal, and Dave was like, “Tug, that’s great. Let me have that.” So he put some lyrics on it and we had a nice song. It all came together really quickly.” As the lead single on Roth’s 1988 album Skyscraper, the song reached the Top Ten in multiple regions. More recently, it was featured in the live musical production and film version of Rock of Ages.

fleetwood mac sideHaving worked with artists of such varied musical styles and temperaments, Tuggle is mindful of the qualities that make him the right guy for the gig.

“There are such vast differences in styles and personalities on my bio,” he says. “I think the common denominator is the attitude you bring with you. A lot of people are good enough to get the gig, but I try to give a little more than what’s expected. Stevie Nicks and David Lee Roth couldn’t be farther apart on the musical spectrum, but they’re both pretty sensitive people when it comes to their art. And when you’re sitting behind these famous stars, you can feel how much pressure they’re under. So if you can give them that support and provide a safe place to be that artist, you become more valuable as a player. That’s the difference between a working musician and the other guy that’s out of a job.”

Another key to success is having the best possible gear. With Fleetwood Mac, Tuggle relies on a Yamaha AvantGrand piano. “The AvantGrand provides us keyboard players with the feel and touch and beautiful sound of a traditional piano,” he says. “You can have the grand piano experience onstage without all the headaches and logistics and maintenance that an acoustic piano would bring. I can’t tell I’m not playing a real piano when I play the AvantGrand — the action is so realistic. There are transducers in this piano that make it vibrate, like the strings are resonating inside the keyboard. And the piano samples for the AvantGrand are just fantastic.”

For a touring act, the AvantGrand offers additional benefits such as rock-solid reliability and durability. “It’s a good size for the road,” says Tuggle. “Our crew loves it because they can pack it up easily and don’t have to bring in piano tuners. And the band and the soundman love it because the sound is incredible. It’s absolutely the perfect piano for Fleetwood Mac.”

When he’s off the road, Tuggle often contributes to other projects, including a new record by up-and-coming Portland band Alexander Tragedy. But for most of this year, he’ll continue performing worldwide with Fleetwood Mac.

“When you get onstage in front of 15,000 people, you really have to trust that everybody is going to play well together and it’s going to work,” Brett says. “I think there’s a lot of trust at this point. You stay true to the original song, even if you’ve got some of your own style in there. Playing the part is what the gig is all about, and I’m happy and comfortable in that supporting role. It’s all about making those songs come alive every time we get up there.”

“I CAN’T TELL I’M NOT PLAYING A REAL PIANO WHEN I PLAY THE AVANTGRAND — THE ACTION IS SO REALISTIC."