Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres is known for pounding the skins with fervor, but at home he relaxes with fine art, golf and great cigars.
From the Print Edition:
Phil Ivey, March/April 2010
When he performs around the world as the drummer for the mega-rock band Bon Jovi, Tico Torres gets screams of adulation—but when he drives his Denali into the Admiral's Cove golf club near his home in Jupiter, Florida, the girl at the gate waves him through with a smile and a "Hi, Mr. Torres!"
He gets the same treatment from the staff as he walks through the club's main building and into the dining room. Compact and muscular, with neatly sculpted (and graying) sideburns and soul patch, dressed all in black ("because I'm a musician, and from hanging out with Gary Player"), Torres slides into a seat near a window, offering smiles and "How are ya's?" to other members, who seem to take a certain protective pride in having a celebrity as a fellow regular at the club.
Torres orders an omelet with ham and onions, bacon on the side. "My son (six-year-old Hector) came to me the other day and said, 'Dad, you're famous,'" he says. "When I asked where he'd heard that, it turned out the neighbor's kids had told him. He had no idea. It's a little strange when your son notices."
He's a member of one of the rock world's bigger acts. Bon Jovi has sold 120 million albums and 34 million concert tickets in its 27 years, but Torres enjoys relative anonymity.
"I don't mind being in the background," he says. "As the drummer, I get to watch the show and perform. I don't mind walking into a room where nobody knows who I am. There's a beauty to that. I started playing for the sheer joy and creativity of it."
The meal finished, he warms up at the course's driving range, then lights an Avo cigar as he heads for the first tee.
He cranks his drive down the middle of the fairway, then lofts a 3-iron to within a club's length of the par-4 hole, putting to claim a birdie. "I started with a handicap of around 20 and brought it down to about a nine," he says. "But when I haven't played for a while, it's more like a 15."
Like many golfers, Torres has found that cigars and golf go hand in hand. He typically favors recent vintage smokes, but one year while playing in the Dunhill Pro-Am at Leopard Creek Country Club in South Africa, the club's founder, Johann Rupert, offered him a cigar from the 1950s. "That was such a treat," Torres says. "Supposedly, after two years, a cigar loses some of its life. Generally, I prefer a cigar from my era. But those cigars tasted really good."
Golf is Torres's outlet for relaxation as well as his exercise when Bon Jovi is on the road. While the other members of the band head for the gym on tour, 56-year-old Torres uses his days off to hit the local links.
"I've met a lot more interesting people through golf than through my career," says Torres. "Willie Nelson got me into golf. I love the integrity of the game. You meet people and spend the day doing things together. You might be from two totally different walks of life but you have that time together."
He's befriended several professional golfers and played rounds with many of the greats, including Tiger Woods. Asked if it was humbling to go tee-to-green with Woods, Torres doesn't miss a beat: "But he can't play drums."
Woods is one of the golfers Torres wants to include in a collection he's been working on since 1996: bronze casts of the golf grip of many of the sport's greats.
"I thought, you see 3-D views of a lot of parts of golf, but never of the hands," says Torres, an accomplished painter and sculptor. "So I started doing casts of major winners' hands. I did Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ernie Els, Gary Player—a bunch of them. I donated them to the St. Andrews Museum, with the provision that people could touch them. That was my gift to golf."
As he played a relaxed 18 holes, Torres was a couple weeks away from returning to the road with Bon Jovi. The Circle Tour, named after the group's latest release, kicked off in Hawaii on February 11 and will eventually span the world before ending in summer 2011. That schedule would take its toll on any performer, but drummers take a particularly hard pounding, moving arms and legs almost nonstop for an entire show, which lasts two-and-a-half to three hours. To prepare for the physical rigors, Torres begins working out several weeks ahead of time, exercising on a Stairmaster and strengthening his core.
"It's about getting your heart and your lungs ready," he says. "Mainly, it's about getting my wind up. Doing a show is like boxing—your heart rate goes up and down. It takes a couple of weeks to feel like I'm in command physically."
On stage, Torres attacks his drums with ferocity from start to finish. One particularly noteworthy fan, Queen Elizabeth II, spoke up after Bon Jovi played in Liverpool. "Your arms must be so tired," she said with admiration, then quizzed Torres on his stamina and workout regimen. "That was special to me," Torres says.
"There's no one better behind the kit," says Jon Bon Jovi, via an e-mail interview. "He does things, without the use of technology, that would take a drummer and a percussionist to pull off live. And there's no one more loyal and loving than Tico."
Torres's fierce attack initially brought him to Bon Jovi's attention: "I saw Tico for the first time in 1978 when he was the drummer for a local band called Lord Gunner," he says. "He was the best and hardest-hitting drummer on the scene. When [former Bon Jovi bassist] Alec Such told me he knew him and would approach him to play in the band, I was floored. Getting him was a major coup."
Hector Samuel Juan "Tico" Torres started playing drums professionally when he was 14—without ever having played before. "I always had rhythm," Torres says, relaxing in the living room of his expansive Jupiter home, with a backyard that ends in a boat dock on an inlet that connects to the Intercoastal Waterway. "But I started playing by accident. I was hanging with some friends who had a band, who were supposed to play a club. Their drummer walked out to have a smoke or something and someone said, 'You're on.' So they grabbed me. I had half a drumstick and pliers, but I played all night. And I kept playing with them."
Born in New York to parents of Cuban extraction, Torres moved to New Jersey at seven, living with his mother after his father abandoned the family. His musical skills are self-taught, though he attempted to sign up for band in high school.
"I wanted to be in the jazz band but I was told that first I had to be in the marching band," he recalls. "And to be in the marching band, I had to cut my hair. I said, 'No way.' So I didn't get an education in music—in high school. But I was out there doing, as opposed to studying. I was hands-on, doing what had to be done. Those were the days when you could be in three, four, five bands at one time and work with all of them because there were 10 clubs in the same square mile of New York."
He supported himself and his mother, working after school as an upholsterer or as a roofer: "I always had one rule: I treated every other job as a hobby and music as my real job," he says. "If I had a job roofing, it was a hobby that could get me from Point A to Point B."
Torres played jazz as well as rock, jamming with older musicians, including such legends as Miles Davis, Al DiMeola and Joe Pass. "I was always the young guy who was learning, learning, learning from the older guys," he says. "I went to Elvin Jones for lessons and he said, 'Just come and watch me.' So I used to sit next to him at the Village Vanguard and watch him and hand him cigarettes and drinks. If you asked someone, they'd tell you, 'Tico is not the most technical guy in town, but he's got feeling.'"
Torres was a well-regarded session and road drummer when he was introduced to Jon Bon Jovi. He was unsure about joining—the band sounded raw and Bon Jovi was nine years his junior.
"All the guys in the band still lived at home with their parents," Torres recalls with a laugh. "I had my own home and was married to my first wife. I'd been recording for years. I'd just come off nine months on the road with Franke and the Knockouts. Ritchie Blackmore and Ozzy Osbourne were calling me, looking for a road drummer. I took a chance. They weren't the best-sounding group, but I could tell that this kid [Bon Jovi] was a star."
Bon Jovi says, "At the time, his reputation was part Animal from The Muppets, part Hell's Angel, part poet, lover and friend to many. Let's just say he made a big impression on and off the stage."
That was 1983. In 2010, Torres says, he still gets the same thrill when he gets on stage with Bon Jovi that he did in the beginning.
"I'm 16 every time I play," he says. "It's a weird mental thing. The exuberance of youth is still there. And with age, I appreciate it more. This band will cease when we're having no fun. That's a pact we made. It's not a life sentence."
Though Torres says he can still just "go out and play," the physical demands of performing have taken their toll. During Bon Jovi's Lost Highway Tour, which ran from October 2007 to July 2008, Torres suffered three herniated discs in his back: "I played with a harness on," he recalls. "I'd get acupuncture before and after each show and ice constantly. It wasn't fun—but we didn't cancel a single show."
In 1992, the hard hits caught up to Torres. Bon Jovi had to cancel a gig in Australia as the effects of repetitive-stress injury (a cause of carpal-tunnel syndrome) made it impossible for him to hold his drumsticks.
"I got a shot of cortisone in each wrist but I just couldn't play," he recalls. "But I was saved by a company called Ahead, which had come up with these aluminum sticks with special wrappings. And I wear special gloves. I'd been beating the drums for so many years and I was always a hard hitter. I'd go through 16 pairs of sticks each show. Technology, rest and new sticks saved my career."
After each performance, Torres indulges his passion for cigars. "I definitely have a cigar after a show. I keep a humidor in my road case," he says. "There's nothing better after a show. Our stage manager, Bugsy, has his own humidor, too. We try different cigars, we trade cigars. When you're traveling around the world, you get to try a lot of different brands. But Montecristo is still my No. 1."
Torres's Cuban heritage brought him in close contact with cigars from an early age. "Being Cuban, I watched my father and grandfather smoke cigars," he says. "I started smoking when I was 16. In terms of cigars, I'm self-taught. It's what you like, a flavor thing. I like a middle kind of cigar, a Montecristo or a Dominican Avo. A big cigar is good after dinner. For golf, I like the smaller ones.
"I'm a romantic, and to me, that's a romantic picture: Latin music, dominoes and cigar smoke. Seeing a Cuban man with a cigar, it's like an extra finger. It's that comfortable. To me, it makes me feel my heritage. There's a romanticism to that kind of old-world feeling. To me, cigars were never a fad. They're a way of life."
Torres relaxes with his cigars, and has four humidors spread throughout his house. "The most expensive cigars I ever bought were $800 for a box, $40 each. But some people will spend $225 on an ounce of Cognac. To me, a cigar provides more enjoyment, pure enjoyment. A cigar is an event."
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