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It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since Stone Temple Pilots frontman and ‘90s alt-rock legend Scott Weiland was found dead on his tour bus in Bloomington, Minn., at age 48. Tommy Black, Weiland’s close friend and bandmate for 10 years, in particular finds that fact difficult to grasp — but not because the time has passed quickly for him.
“It feels like five years to me,” Black tells Yahoo Music, in his first official solo interview since the tragedy. “It feels like a lot more than a year. It feels like it’s been a lot of years, for some reason. It was a horrible year… I still feel a little uncomfortable talking about it all, to be honest.”
A year ago, as speculation ran rampant regarding Weiland’s death, longtime sideman Black was suddenly thrust into the media spotlight, when it was reported that he had been arrested for fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance following the incident. (A small amount of cocaine had been found on the tour bus that Weiland and Black shared; it was later determined that Weiland, who had a long and much-publicized history of addiction issues, had died of an accidental overdose of cocaine, ethanol, and MDA, according to the Hennepin Medical Examiner.) Deputy Bloomington Police Chief Mike Hartley later told People that charges were actually never filed, because it would be too difficult to prove that the cocaine belonged to Black. But, the bassist says ruefully, “It kind of sucks that that’s the first thing that going to come up on a Google search for my name for the rest of my life.”
Black recalls the dark day when he found out that his friend had died — and then found himself in a jail cell for 17 hours, trying to process the terrible news. “We were at the Mall of America in Minnesota; we had a day off,” he begins. “I had knocked on Scott’s door to see if he wanted to go eat, but he didn’t answer, so I figured, let him sleep. So I was at the Mall of America, and Jamie [Wachtel], Scott’s wife, called me and said Scott hadn’t called her all day. I told her to call the tour manager, Aaron [Mohler], and find out what’s up. A bit later, one of the tour guys called me and said, ‘Come to the bus right now. Scott’s dead.’ Aaron and [drummer] Joey [Castillo] had found him and called 911. I went straight to the bus… The police were there, and they wouldn’t let anyone on the bus at that point. We went to hang out in the [hotel] lobby — and then I went to the bar next door by myself.
“And you know, I just got drunk when I heard the news. I went next door and had a few shots, unfortunately. And the detectives came to question us — they question everybody when somebody dies on a tour bus. They’re questioning me and they told me the next day, ‘We had to detain you, because you [were too inebriated] to really be able to answer questions, and we didn’t want you to leave the next morning.’ And then, you know, the media runs with that, so it had a bad spin on it. And that sucked, because that’s not the way it was. It hurt me at the time, but I understand. Everybody wants an answer. Everybody wants to blame somebody.”
Weiland’s death came only eight months after guitarist Jeremy Brown, Black’s 34-year-old bandmate in Weiland’s post-STP group the Wildabouts, died on the eve of the Wildabouts’ debut album release. Brown’s cause of death was also an accidental drug overdose. Black confesses he’s still not over either loss. “Two people like that in that timeframe — just processing it, there’s a post-traumatic stress disorder thing that comes with that,” he says. “It takes a very long time to digest something like that, and you never truly do. I just try to be positive and live a positive life and do positive things. That’s all I can do.”
These days, Black, who was the best man at Weiland’s 2013 wedding to third wife Wachtel, avoids reading press about Weiland (or himself), and tries to focus on positive memories — memories of a very different Weiland from the troubled addict depicted in the media, and very different from the tortured artist heard on Weiland’s most angst-ridden grunge hits.
“Scott was a positive, loving, cool, badass person,” Black says fondly. “We would just have fun, like getting excited about music, talking about different bands and pulling up songs on our phones. And he loved paintball! He could be a big goofball sometimes. People only want to report the bad stuff, but Scott loved life. He had a very dry wit and he was very intelligent, and we were similar ages and came from similar backgrounds and even from similar areas, so we connected a lot on that level… We could talk without talking. We could look at each other and survey each other, where we were coming from. Like, we had similar obscure jokes that no one else understood. It was that kind of bond, which you don’t often come across.”
Black finds it hard to deal with Weiland’s death at this time of year not just because of the one-year anniversary, but because Weiland “took the holidays so seriously — and that shows how sweet he was. It’s really hard for me, because at least the last four or five Thanksgivings, New Year’s Eves, and Christmases would be spent with Scott and Jamie. I spent so many Christmases over there, and he would cook and he’d sing Christmas songs, and then his Christmas record [The Most Wonderful Time of the Year] would play and he’d start singing with it. At Thanksgiving, he would cook the turkey. He was a real good cook, and he took the cooking of the turkey really seriously… He just loved family and holidays. He was a very nostalgic guy about that sort of stuff.”
This past Thanksgiving, Black honored his late friend and kept that holiday tradition alive by cooking a feast in Weiland’s honor. “I texted Jamie: ‘What was that turkey he always cooked? What’s the recipe? Because that was a good turkey!’ I had never cooked a turkey before. Scott used to tease me about my cooking, because I have, like, a George Forman/OptiGrill thing,” he chuckles.
Black also has happy memories of his final shows with the Wildabouts — contradicting multiple sad reports that in the end Weiland was tired, depressed, and strung-out, sleepwalking through the band’s under-attended gigs. “No. He was so excited. He enjoyed playing and he was burning brightly as ever,” Black insists. “We were loving what we were doing. He said [the Wildabouts’ album, Blaster] was his favorite record since [Stone Temple Pilots’] Core. And that’s huge! He was in the best place that I had ever seen him. I think his body probably just gave out. He worked hard and he played hard. He sang hard… I mean, he had lived a long, hard life, and that was his reality. He didn’t have the normal life any of us had. Luckily, I got to share some of that with him. He was a very special person and it was such a tragic thing. But I don’t think he was upset at all.”
Listening to the music he made with Weiland has helped Black process his grief. “Somebody sends me a link to something and I check it out, and it just takes me right back there,” he says wistfully. “Music can make you smell things and taste things or hear things in your head… Your mind fills in the spaces in the music.” Black reveals that there is unreleased Wildabouts music in his possession, but he hasn’t “decided what to do with it yet. It’s cool, too. There’s some more ethereal-sounding stuff… it runs the whole gamut, actually. It’s just in my thoughts. I haven’t talked to anyone about it, to be honest.”
And in the end, Black hopes it’s Weiland’s music, not the tabloid scandals, that becomes his friend’s most lasting legacy. “Scott was the real deal,” Black states. “Sometimes I’d be playing with him and I’d look to my left and I’d be like, ‘Whoa, I can’t believe I’m up here with this guy!’ It was just such a compliment, an honor, to play with him, when you realize how talented he was.
“I don’t matter. Scott matters. Twenty years from now, in Rolling Stone or whatever, when there’s, like, pictures of Jim Morrison, Scott will be next to him too. You know what I mean? That’s all that matters.”