Brett Tuggle, a journeyman keyboardist who spent two decades with Fleetwood Mac during their reunion era and also served as a founding member of the David Lee Roth Band in the 1980s, died June 19 of complications from cancer. He was 70.
Tuggle’s son Matt confirmed his death Rolling Stone. “He was so loved by his family,” says Matt. “His family was with him throughout his illness. He was a loving father. He gave me music in my life.”
Throughout his long career, Tuggle has also played with Jimmy Page, Rick Springfield, David Coverdale, John Kay and Steppenwolf, Styx’s Tommy Shaw, and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. He co-wrote the 1988 hit “Just Like Paradise” while working with David Lee Roth.
“Our sweet Brett Tuggle made it home tonight,” Rick Springfield wrote on Twitter. “God bless his beautiful spirit.”
Tuggle entered the world of Fleetwood Mac in 1992 when he landed a gig with Mick Fleetwood’s side project The Zoo and stayed in the band’s orbit through Lindsey Buckingham’s solo tour late last year. He played keyboards on every Fleetwood Mac tour from 1997 to 2017 and also performed extensively with Stevie Nicks, Buckingham and Buckingham McVie.
“This guy is just a master,” Buckingham said of Tuggle while introducing his band at the Warner Theater in Washington DC on September 14, 2021. “He is an outstanding keyboardist, bassist, guitarist and vocalist. And he brings so much clarity and integrity to it too. There’s no way in the world we could do that [show] without him. Without him we would never have made it and we will not be able to in the future either. We love him to death.”
Tuggle grew up in Denver, Colorado and loved rock music from a young age. “Like everyone else in the country, we were drawn to the surfing scene,” he said Rolling Stone in 2020 when he was featured in our Unknown Legends interview series. “The Beach Boys had a huge impact on junior high. I got sucked into the Harmony thing with them. And like everyone else, I saw The Beatles on TV and it was never the same.”
Inspired by Steve Winwood’s work with the Spencer Davis Group, Tuggle began playing keyboards as a teenager. He made his professional debut in 1970 when he was hired by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels to tour and work on their LP Detroit. He only stayed with the band for a year and a half and struggled to find steady work in the years that followed. But in 1981 he was recruited by John Kay and Steppenwolf to play keyboards on their world tour. In 1982, he teamed up with Springfield right after Jessie’s Girl broke.
“I will never forget stepping onto the stage in that auditorium in Sacramento [for our first show]’ Tuggle said Rolling Stone. “The noise was like a jet engine. It was amazing. It was kind of scary, it was so loud. It was such hysteria. I was looking down at the audience and these little girls were spinning around this guy and just losing their composure.”
Tuggle toured with Springfield for three years and later toured briefly with Tommy Shaw and Belinda Carlisle. In 1986 David Lee Roth hired him to play on his Eat them and smile Touring – his first trek since leaving Van Halen – along with guitarist Steve Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette. “There was a lot of bad blood in the press between the two camps and it got very heated,” Tuggle recalled. “We had security guards when we went anywhere.”
When the tour ended, Tuggle sat down at his home keyboard and developed the music that Roth eventually crafted into his 1988 hit “Just Like Paradise.” It peaked at number six on the Hot 100. The only time Roth had a more successful solo single was in 1985 with his cover of “California Girls.”
Tuggle continued to play with Roth through 1994, although he took a break in 1993 to join David Coverdale and Jimmy Page on their tour of Japan that year. He recently recorded an album with Mick Fleetwood’s side project The Zoo. And if the rumours Fleetwood Mac lineup reformed in 1997, he was asked to join their world tour. He shared keyboard work with Christine McVie. “Basically we shared them because Christine needed to sing,” he said Rolling Stone. “She played her main keyboard part either on the piano or on the organ. I did all the colors and synthesizers and other stuff. There were so many parts to things, so it was really easy.”
His role grew when McVie left the band after tour, and he also began accompanying Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham on their solo outings. However, this arrangement inevitably led to some scheduling conflicts. “It got to a point where Stevie was like, ‘You have to make a choice,'” Tuggle recalled. “I said, ‘You know Stevie, I love playing with you. I support you. But Lindsey doesn’t have a band.” She said, ‘I know he needs good people.’ She seemed ok with that when I went off to do Lindsey’s thing. But think in the end she looked at me a bit like she was leaving her and going to Lindsey’s camp.”
Buckingham has kept Tuggle busy with both solo work and the Buckingham McVie offshoot band for the past 15 years. But when Fleetwood Mac parted ways with Buckingham in 2018, Tuggle lasted no more than a single rehearsal with the new cast in Hawaii.
“I was really shocked when I got the call that they wouldn’t use me,” Tuggle said Rolling Stone. “I also realized that I was in the middle of the politics of Lindsey and Stevie and this band and there was nothing I could do about it. I had become Lindsey’s type and that was it and I had to accept it. I couldn’t do anything else.”
Tuggle toured with Buckingham in 2021 but was absent when the tour resumed in April. “I would like to mention the gentleman who is noticeably absent from the stage tonight,” Buckingham told the crowd at the tour opener in San Francisco on April 5. “Mr. Brett Tuggle has a little health issue. Hopefully he’ll be back for the next show, whatever it takes. We missed him tonight.”