Ralph Sutton

This Straight Guy Rides The Tour Bus To Queer Eye

Listeners of the nationally-syndicated radio show, "The Tour Bus," were surprised to see their favorite host, Ralph Sutton, featured on a recent episode of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," the Bravo TV network's cultural phenomenon where five gay men who are experts in their fields "make-better" (not make-over) a straight man in the areas of fashion, culture, food, design and grooming.

"Queer Eye" fans watched as Sutton, who shares an apartment with his brother Joey, stand by as the Fab Five tore through his closets, furniture, bathroom and kitchen. As with each episode of the hit show, the straight guy is introduced to better grooming habits, expanded cultural interests, a superior food and wine pallet, high-fashion couture du jour, as well the wonders that fresh paint, new furniture and a few architectural modifications can do to an apartment.

The pay-off for the evening was a blind date Sutton was set up on by Joey and his girlfriend, Crystal. The two couples spent the evening at a special Tour Bus live radio broadcast with Vince Neil of Motley Crue at a local rock and roll club. The event was a spectacular success and, as Sutton shares in his interview with Chorus and Verse, the date went well enough that they are still seeing each other several month later.

But "Queer Eye" isn't Sutton's first exposure to national media. Begun in January 1999, "The Tour Bus" is a celebration of the party and heavy metal rock of the 1980s and 1990s. Despite being born in the post-grunge era when rap was taking over as the cultural face of music, the show shot to number one in its time slot. Over the next few years, the show has added affiliates around the country, and hopes to be on 60 stations within a few months. Its corresponding website, www.thetourbus.com, boasts one million hits per month, fans checking out the media clips of their favorite musicians.

Chorus and Verse interviewed Sutton shortly after the first airing of his "Queer Eye" appearance (Episode 117 of the show on the Bravo website, at www.bravotv.com/Queer_Eye_for_the_Straight_Guy). He went into detail about some of the behind-the-scenes action of one of the hottest shows on television, as well as the early days and current successes of "The Tour Bus," and where it's stopping next.

You've been getting a lot of attention recently for your stint on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Can you start off by telling us how you wound up being picked for the show, and what your first impressions were when you found out that you'd be made over?

It all started when my co-host, Stacey X, came in after the second or third episode of the show. She said something along the lines of "Wow, Ralph, you are the perfect candidate for this!" I hadn't seen the show, but I knew what it was about, and since most radio people are publicity whores; why the heck not! I applied, and got a phone call the next day. It seems they were looking for a radio guy.

When I found out it was gonna happen, it really thrilled me because I knew they spent a lot of money. Plus, I used the knowledge of my upcoming national TV exposure as a catalyst to get me back into shape. I lost 35 pounds! I was extremely anxious to get started.

The show is presented as taking place over a single day, but how long did the filming process actually take? How much prep work was done beforehand and how much time did you actually spend with each member of the Fab Five?

Well, I have to say that they really try to get to know you beforehand. They want to make sure that what they do really is going to make you happy.

Probably two phone interviews, and two in-person interviews with the producers prior to the taping. Plus, they film you and take pix of you beforehand.

The show tapes over several days, but it whizzes by so fast it almost feels like one! I spent a lot of time with them. Basically all day, every day for the filming except the final day when I was on my own to do everything.

They are amazing guys. Everyone on the show, from the Fab Five and the entire crew, they all truly want you to be happy. I really think that is the key to this show's amazing success.

Were you able to see the final edit of the show before it aired, or did you watch it on TV like the rest of us? Do you think that you came off well? Was there anything they showed that made you wince a little?

I wish I could have seen it beforehand, but no way. They'd never let me. (Laughs.)

I saw it at a party I had with about 200 friends and family. It was a chance I was willing to take, since it really was all in the editing on how I would come out. Since they had hours and hours of tape, I am sure they could've made me seem like a true idiot or a nice guy. Thankfully, they went with the latter!

I loved how it came out. Sure, I screwed up a little, but I thought that overall I came off pretty good. A pretty accurate depiction of me.

Plus, since it aired I've fixed my shave technique. (Laughs.)

Are there any interesting stories or goings on that didn't make it onto the show? Was there anything one of the guys did that especially surprised or impressed you?

Well, the one thing that didn't make it on that I am most thankful for is the taping of my naked ass in the shower! That's something America just doesn't need to see!

There were a lot of very funny moments that didn't make it. Maybe they're saving it for the DVD!

I think what surprised me the most is that the five of them were so set on making me happy. It was like a vacation where everyone's job is to make sure you are in a good mood!

The coolest thing that Carson did didn't even make it to camera. He took a leather vest that I had and distressed it with sandpaper. It was actually in the "Hip Tips" at the end [of the show]. Then, he sewed my "Tour Bus" logo onto the back of the vest. It's like the greatest piece of clothing that I own now, and, sadly, that didn't make it to camera.

What were the next few weeks like after the shoot? Did things go anywhere with the girl you had the blind date with? Did you keep up with the yoga workouts? How long was it from the end of shooting, and when the show actually aired?

The show filmed on November 8th, so it's been a while. So, when people ask me if I have been keeping it up, well, it's been almost four months and I haven't gained a pound. I still get my hair cut from the same guy, I've done yoga a few times. But not the hot room yoga, that was really just too freakin' hard for me! And I still dress the way they had me dress.

All in all I am very happy with everything. They call it a make-better not a make-over, and the reason is they really want you to be comfortable with everything they are showing you. As I told them, I don't wanna look like some guy from a J-Crew catalog, cuz that just ain't me!

And, yes, Kris and I are still seeing each other. She is a very nice gal.

Queer Eye tends to go back and check up to see how the straight guys are doing. If they come back and invite you to be in a holiday episode, are they going to be happy with your progress, or have you fallen back into some old habits?

I've been really keeping it up. I've actually purchased some more clothes, and a few other nick-knacks around the house, that I think they'd be proud of.

I hope that they come back to me! I miss those guys. (Laughs.)

What's been the reaction to your Tour Bus listeners to the show? Have you noticed that your Queer Eye appearance has brought new listeners to the show, and have been any new opportunities presented to you that you might pursue?

The TB listeners were actually a lot more supportive than I'd thought they'd be. There is a connotation that hard rock guys are homophobic, but I really don't think that is the case. I've been inundated with e-mails and phone calls ranging from hard-core TB listeners to newbies who just loved my appearance. Most rock guys were thrilled I taught Ted how to give the metal horns correctly!

The day after the show aired we signed three new stations! So, I'd say it's gotten the word out. Plus, I may be going back to VH1-Classic as a part time VJ again. I'm always up for doing stuff. I love this industry!

Let's turn to the Tour Bus. It started in January 1999 on WNNJ, shot to number one in its time slot, and later moved to WDHA. Give us some background into those early days. How was the idea of the Tour Bus initial conceived, and what were some the challenged you faced in getting the show off the ground?

I think the biggest initial challenge was that I am not nor have I ever been a radio guy per se. I just had an idea.

How it came about? I DJ at a strip club two nights a week and for years, whenever I threw on Guns N' Roses or Motley Crue, the place would go nuts. I said to myself, like me, most of the people in this room are in that 25-45 age bracket. This is their classic rock, and no one is playing it! It made no sense to me.

When I was a teenager, classic rock was Led Zepplin and The Stones. Now, 20 years later, classic rock radio is still Led Zepplin and the Stones. What about me! My opening line in my presentation to WNNJ was "How Many Times Can We Hear Stairway To Heaven?"

I worked four overnight shifts in radio before presenting my idea to WNNJ. They said I could do it if I brought a radio-guy on with me. Matt Murray, my original co-host, jumped on. We did the show together for three years. He got hired at WDHA full-time and just couldn't work that many hours in the same week, so he bowed out gracefully from the BUS. Stacey X came on about three months later, and has been on board ever since.

The biggest challenges were simply [that] I had really no idea what I was doing. Yeah, Matt knew radio, but no one we knew had any idea how syndication worked.

The best story I can tell you was we got lucky enough to sign with a syndication company and thought we had it made. Four months later we hadn't signed a single station. We were syndicatable not syndicated! Matt and I were really distraught and decided screw this! We loaded up a car and drove up and down the east coast randomly calling any rock station that would take our calls. We spent a week on the road and came back to NJ with five new affiliates! That was really an amazing feeling.

In fact, over the next year we signed many more stations while our syndication company signed zero! When our contract was up for the first year we left them, and signed with our new company, Wilbur Entertainment, who has done an amazing job taking us from around 12 stations to the 54 we are on now in about two years. They say a good growth rate is about a station a month. We are way ahead of that, and it feels great!

Your website says that the Tour Bus "brings you a party vibe that is nowhere to be heard on your dial these days." Why do you think that these bands that sold millions and millions of albums are ignored by mainstream radio these days? Do you think that the music cycle will turn and others will jump on the bandwagon that you've started?

I know this music is coming back, just look at The Darkness for starters! I have to say that when the media decided it was un-cool to like this music, sadly, everyone followed. But, I truly believe that everything is cyclical, and it's usually on a 20 year swing. Well, Quiet Riot hit #1 in '83, and I consider that the somewhat official launch of the Tour Bus era.

Even though there's a lot of great TB rock from the late '70s/early '80s era, that was really the first time anyone stood up and took notice to what was going on. Now, 20 years later, I see it happening. I mean, look at what's going on this summer as far as tours go: Aerosmith, Judas Priest, Ozzy, Van Halen, Tesla, Cinderella, Kiss, and dozens more, all hitting the road.

It's back big time. Def Leppard was one of the top touring acts of '03. It's coming back in a big way, and I am glad to be a part of it!

Is it a kick to be able to meet and interview the musicians who you listened and rocked to when you were growing up? Are there any artists who you've met that you couldn't help acting like a fan with, or interviews that really surprised you?

Ya know, I think the key to our success is I never ever get star-struck. Not sure why, [it's] always just act like I'm talking with a friend. I think it's what makes our interviews sound so easy, why the artists keep coming back. We treat them like friends, not anything else. A lot of these guys I knew from back in the day when I worked at Limelight [in New York City] and L'Amour [in Brooklyn, NY]. Having those connections helped us get our guests the first year or so when we were on the air. It was great to be able to call some of these guys and they remembered me from back then. It was easier to get them since they had no idea what the tour bus was back then.

Regarding surprises, it takes a lot to catch me off guard. I don't think I've been thrown for a loop yet, but it's always funny to watch them try! (Laughs.)

Are there any bands who you haven't been able to interview yet and are working on? Any dream interviews?

It's funny, when VH1 came out with a list of the "Top Hair Bands" of all time, I was amazed that we had almost every single one of them on the show already! The bands left that I really want: Aerosmith and Scorpions. Plus, I'd love to get a few more bands performing in the studio. We were lucky lately, with Living Colour performing. That was really cool. I'd love to have Cinderella perform in the studio. With them going on tour this summer, hopefully it'll work out!

The Tour Bus website is very innovative in its use of media clips from the shows, and has boasted 1,000,000 hits per month. How important has the Internet been to building your audience and allowing the Tour Bus staff to stay tuned into its audience and what they want to hear?

We do our best to respond to every single e-mail we get. I personally try and do it all myself. I want to be the guy that people can come to for info on their favorite bands, or help them find a CD they can't find. It's very important.

The funny thing is, our website has become so well-known that a lot of people don't even realize we are a radio show first, and an Internet site second. The site is really just an extra thing, but it's become its own entity!

What's coming up for The Tour Bus over the next few months? Are there upcoming guests you're especially looking forward to or special Tour Bus events that fans should watch out for? You do anticipate expanding syndication onto any additional stations?

What I love about the show is we get the big names, but we also go out to find the bands that you may have totally forgot about. For example, last month we had Tesla and Living Colour on the show, but we also had Law & Order and White Trash. That's just great!

I am thrilled that the guys from Queer Eye are coming in to host one night, which will be a lot of fun.

In the coming months, it looks like Queensryche, Hanoi Rocks and George Lynch will be on the show. Trying to work on a few surprises, too!

I'm told by our syndicate that about a half-dozen stations are about to jump on board the bus. Hope to hit 60 by summer. That would rock.

All-in-all, the best part of the show is that it's been over five years and I still go to work each week with a big smile on my face. I couldn't be happier with the way the show is going and the direction it's headed in.

Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to me about it.

[ Website: www.thetourbus.com ]

Matt Mrowicki

Matt Mrowicki founded Chorus and Verse in 2001. He is a rock star designer and technologist, Internet professional, content creator, and entrepreneur specializing in web development, IT consulting, branding, social media and online marketing. www.imprtech.com