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George Tutuska lives.

The drummer who spent nearly a decade with the Goo Goo Dolls and left the Buffalo band four years ago -- just as it broke into the big time -- is alive, happy and making music.

"The thought of slitting my wrists never crossed my mind. Actually, it did cross my mind when I was still in the Goo Goo Dolls," said Tutuska, 33, during his first major interview with this paper since the breakup of the band.

He now plays in a band called Bobo. It has just released a new, self-titled EP.

The annuals of rock history are filled with band splits and tales of members left behind (see Pete Best, original drummer for the Beatles). The Goos' success seemed particularly bittersweet for Tutuska. He spent nearly one-third of his life with the band, sweating and starving as they worked their way from the local bar circuit to international acclaim.

Just as the big time beckoned in 1995, a simmering conflict between Tutuska and Johnny Rzeznik, the Goos' lead singer and songwriter, reached full boil. The two argued about money, songwriting credits and the musical direction of the band, Tutuska said.

A few months after Tutuska was forced out, the band's album "A Boy Named Goo" was released. It became a best seller, produced a hit single, "Name," and eventually the CD sold more than 3 million copies.

The follow-up album, "Dizzy Up the Girl," came out last year and is near the 3 million sales mark. The original Goos, Rzeznik and Robby Takac, along with replacement drummer Mike Malinin, have been nominated for Grammy awards, appeared on most major television networks and are one of the top touring rock acts in the world. The band recently opened for the Rolling Stones.

Tutuska, meanwhile, stayed home and learned to live without the two guys he shared his youth with while playing music.

"It was tough after the split," he said. "I was 30 years old with nothing. I quit college to stay with this band. I couldn't have gotten through this without my family."

"It was the hardest thing George has had to go through," said Nadine Tutuska, George's wife. "The success of Johnny and Robby doesn't bother him. What does bother him is the failed relationships. They were two people he loved very much."

One of the hard lessons of the music business is that money, not love, is its driving force. Tutuska said he had to get a lawyer to gain his royalty rights. He said he has not spoken to Rzeznik or Takac since the split.

"They only speak through lawyers," Mrs. Tutuska said. "Now it's like a messy divorce."

Tutuska was particularly upset because of the band's lack of recognition of his contributions to their breakthrough album, "A Boy Named Goo." Part of their legal battle was over royalty rights to those songs.

"I'm extremely proud of the music I made with the Goo Goo Dolls, but, not taking anything away from them because they are obviously successful, I don't like the style of music they are making now," he said in a soft voice, as a bright sun hovered over Cazenovia Park, near his home in South Buffalo.

The breakup of the Goos had as much to do with personality and ego as it did with musical philosophy, Tutuska said. "Johnny made it impossible for me to stay in the band. He portrayed me as a weak musical link.

"Johnny didn't want to split the money and he didn't want to give me credit for songs I did. I still feel I was robbed of my royalty rights. It all comes down to money."

The Goo Goo Dolls have been touring in Europe. Though efforts were made through press representatives to contact them for a reply, they were unable to comment.

At the time of the split, Rzeznik told The News: "We just had differences that could not be settled. We've had a lot of heartaches and frustrations. We had some good times, too, but we couldn't go on like this. We're not happy about the split. It cast a dark shadow over everything. I wish George nothing but the best."

Takac said: "I know George isn't happy, but there were problems with the band and we felt this was best for all of us. We had a lot of uncomfortable feelings when we were together in the recording studio."

Others close to the band offered some insight.

"Two of the Goo Goo Dolls wanted to be rock stars and one didn't. The one who didn't was George," said a former associate from the early days. "Those two guys were willing to do anything to make it. I don't know if George was. I do know that what happened to George bothers Johnny a lot. They went through a lot together."

Artie Kwitchoff, now a local rock promoter, managed the Goos during the band's early days. "They were all wild and crazy kids when they started out," he said. "I think what happened is, they grew up and changed. Their view of music changed and their relationships changed. It happens in a lot of bands.

"I like George and I respect George. I feel the same way about Johnny and Robby."

Tutuska, who works as a construction contractor, is lean, muscular and intense. His music bears the same qualities. He has always craved high-powered rock 'n' roll, with a pop flavor. His favorite bands include the Clash, Social Distortion and the Pogues.

He has more interests than rock music -- he also enjoys writing, jazz and painting.

Bobo features Tutuska and some of his old musical friends, including Frank Sterlace, Tim Byrne, Marc Hunt and Jimmer Phillips, who was once an original member of the band that became known as the Goo Goo Dolls. Bobo plays a power pop sound that is accessible yet powerful.

Tutuska had played with a band called Hula after leaving the Goos, but seems to have found a niche with Bobo. The band is making the best music of Tutuska's post-Goo Goo Dolls career.

"George lends stability to this band," said Greg Genco of P22/Atom Smash Records, the independent label that released the EP. "He leads with his drumming and personality."

Tutuska emphasizes the band more than himself: "I hate to be the focal point. Bobo isn't my band, it's a band I'm in."

Now that Tutuska is back with a band and the music he loves, his goals are different than they were a decade ago.

"Sure, I'd like to get a platinum album with Bobo," Tutuska said. "But I'd rather be happy."
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