He lived, worked, and played with the band's other members--Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, and Mike McCready--for four years. He also grew with them. Signing on with the band at age 23, this high-school dropout was its youngest member, compared to the others, who were in their middle to late '20s at the time.
Today, Abbruzzese sounds exhausted about the whole affair. It's not that his stint with Pearl Jam--ranging from the band's modest early days to the height of its success--wasn't a wonderful experience, he says. It was. It's just that, since then, he has become wary of still being associated with them.
It doesn't appear to bother him when any of his new music collaborators rib him about being a "rock star." He takes it about the same as when people perpetually mispronounce his last name. (For the record, it's pronounced "A-broo-zees.")
But when gently pressed about his time with Pearl Jam, he says little and never calls the band by its name. It's always just "that band."
His childhood growing up in Mesquite was pretty normal, Abbruzzese confesses. "Total middle-class family. Good upbringing. Wouldn't change a thing."
Born in Connecticut, his family ("older brother, younger brother, mom and dad--still together") eventually made their way to Dallas in 1976. His father worked for the now-long-gone Treasure City department store in Oak Cliff.
"I was a way-shy kid. Really quiet," he says. "I remember looking at the world and thinking it was an odd and funny place.
"Then we moved to Texas," he says. "Then I found out my hair was too long for being in Texas. Texas was a really bizarre place to come to when I was 8 years old."
As a teenager, he never thought much about his future.
"I did a lot of silly things," Abbruzzese says. "Things that just about everybody I knew was doing at that time. If we didn't smoke a joint on the way to school, it was going to be a bad day. It was classic--mid-'80s kind of days. It was a good time but a confused-teenager time. The only thing I wasn't confused about was how I felt when I played music."
He dropped out of high school during his freshman year. "I decided that school was completely uninspiring to me. And not just because of the drugs," he says. "I attribute my experimenting with drugs to the way education was handled in the '80s. Hair code--had to have your hair a certain way. Dress code--there was no way to express yourself in Mesquite, Texas, in the '80s. Pretty much the only way you could be creative is if you were a troublemaker."
Music had always been a part of Abbruzzese's life, as far back as when he was 4 years old, when he first took up drumming. He has never taken any lessons, and no one else in his family was musically inclined. The talent just came to him--with AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Peter Gabriel providing the inspiration.
"So I was an insecure, transplanted Yankee living in Texas, playing the drums, because when I had headphones on and my eyes closed and was beating the hell out of my drums, it was my only release," he says. "It was the only thing I was really comfortable with."
After dropping out of high school, figuring that he "would worry about things when I turned 25," Abbruzzese spent seven years playing in various bands in the local music scene. He drummed for the funk act Dr. Tongue (in which he played along with Neil), Segueway (an "instrumental freak-out"), the Flaming Hemorrhoids and, for a few months, Course of Empire. Every one of these bands provided a positive learning experience, he says, and were rewarding especially for the friendships he made and would later come to value.
And yet, by early 1991, Abbruzzese considered dropping the sticks. His feelings were complicated when he broke off a romantic relationship. It seemed to him, during those days, that he had done all he could with his drumming. But his only other career option seemed to be selling bongs and grow lights at the Gas Pipe. Things had become pretty stagnant.