Godsmack guitarist Tony Rombolo is a cautious guy. He would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to the dubious music business.
The Boston hard rockers, making noise on mainstream rock radio with the fiery “Whatever,” are climbing Billboard’s top 200 pop albums chart with their self-titled Republic/Universal album. Just seven months ago, Rombolo was clinging to his day job as a carpenter, squirreling away money in case his dream didn’t come true.
“I thought about music a lot during work,” Rombolo said recently. “Toward the end there, it was really cool, because we were getting a lot of airplay on WAAF (in Boston) even in the daytime when I was at work. I would be working and I’d hear our tunes on the radio, and the other carpenters are like, ‘Throw that friggin’ saw out the window. What are you doing here?’ I’m like, ‘I have to do this a little while longer till we get signed.’ I needed the dough. I had to wait till it was locked in and I had some money in the bag.”
He and band mates Sully Erna (vocals), Robbie Merrill (bass) and former Lillian Axe drummer Tommy Stewart finally are sitting pretty. Rombolo still can’t believe it – a hit song and album and now they’re touring the country, taking him outside New England for the first time in his life.
“It’s great,” he said. “I go to the bookstore every week to check out the magazines and see how we’re doing. A huge thing for me was getting into Guitar Player magazine; I’ve been reading it since I was 13. They did a seven-page interview on me. That was a huge highlight for me; I was flying around the house.”
Rombolo said they owe a great deal to a local retail chain, Newbury Comics, which sold their self-released CD in 1996, and Boston radio station WAAF, which championed the early track “Keep Away.” They then caught the attention of Paul Geary, a friend of Erna’s and the original drummer and manager of Extreme. He signed them to his management company P.G.E.
“When we sent our CD everywhere, we didn’t get any response, except Newbury Comics,” Rombolo said. “Then one day at rehearsal, we got a call from a DJ at WAAF; he was real excited about the CD. He told us he was going to start playing it on his show at 11 o’clock. He played it every night. That was a huge break for us, because after that, within a few weeks, our gigs started getting bigger and we started selling more CDs at Newbury Comics in New England. The radio play was an instant reaction to our gigs and our sales.
“This went on for like six months. Then he bumped it up to 9 o’clock and 7 o’clock, because it was getting more requests. Eventually, our gigs were getting huge and we were selling anywhere from 700 to a thousand CDs a week out of this one chain of record stores, so I guess (Republic/Universal) saw the SoundScan figures and they called us. They came to a gig. We had sold about 20,000 CDs by the time they signed us. If they’re seeing that we’re doing it on our own, with their power they could definitely help us spread it around.”
In 1997, Rombolo was wallowing in a Boston bar band doing mostly covers when Erna approached him to replace original guitarist Lee Richards. He quickly made his presence known, collaborating with Erna on “Whatever” and “Immune” and hammering out the instrumental track “Someone in London.”
” ‘Whatever’ is almost like another step up toward what we’re heading for, in our writing style,” he said, “because that was written with me and Sully later on (after the self-released CD was issued). When I joined the band, they were already established. They had like seven songs; when I joined, I helped write songs after that, and ‘Whatever’ was one of the first that Sully and I wrote together. I’m hoping in the future, on our next album, we’ll be able to collaborate more, stretch out and experiment.”
At least for now, every day is a good Godsmack day, Rombolo said.
“We haven’t had fast success, and I like it that way,” he said. “It’s been slow and steady, and now I’m almost getting immune to good news. I’m hearing good news every day. Other people are getting real excited, but I’m getting less enthusiastic. It’s not that I’m not excited; it’s just all been good news. That’s a great thing. It sure beats beating nails all day.”
ON THE WEB: www.godsmack.com.