From Black Oak to Thin Lizzy, Tommy Aldridge has been a monster on the kit



By Steve Newton

Tommy Aldridge is one of the most recognizable hard-rock drummers in the world. His name may not be a household word along the lines of Moon or Bonham, but anyone who’s followed the careers of Pat Travers, Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Ted Nugent, and latter-day Thin Lizzy has likely seen the curly-haired skin-basher with the aquiline nose and sinewy physique.

The 50-year-old rocker came to prominence as the drummer for ’70s southern-rock hooligans Black Oak Arkansas, although you wouldn’t know that from visiting his Web site ( BOA is only grudgingly referred to as “that band” in Aldridge’s on-line biography, which makes you wonder whether he and bare-chested, grunt-voiced frontman Jim Dandy parted ways with bloody knuckles.

“I had some real problems with that bunch when I left,” notes the Tennessee-born, Florida-raised Aldridge from his home in Santa Barbara, California. “They tied me up in court for over a year, and caused me all kinds of problems, so I figured I’d give them as little exposure as possible, you know, in retrospect.”

While Aldridge’s musical career was made to suffer from an unnamed manager’s “Napoleon complex”, things have certainly been all uphill from there. While backing some of the biggest names in guitar rock from the ’70s to today, he’s carved out a name for himself as a player to watch for, partially due to his mastery of the double bass-drum setup. “That’s kind of my forte,” he relates, “or that’s what I’m known for, anyway. I started it very early in my career, before it was fashionable, ’cause I had parts in my head that I couldn’t actually play on one bass drum. So it was more out of necessity than anything else. I mean, it’s a matter of physics. It’s like drumsticks: if you could play on one what you could play on two, then there would only be one to a bag, you know.”

Aldridge got hooked on drumming at the age of six, when he was inspired by Joe Morello’s solo on the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Take Five”. It was actually one of the first things that he learned to play on drums. “I didn’t learn to play it very well,” he points out, “ ’cause it was a very difficult song to play—and I was just a little kid—but I just picked out all the individual parts and then tried to play ’em all at the same time. It was kind of like somebody tryin’ to build a shed.”

Over the years, Aldridge developed a thrashy playing style more akin to demolishing a shed than building one. But his aggressive approach is widely appreciated by fellow drummers and rock fans alike, to the point where he’s much in demand as an instructor at drum clinics. (He leads one Saturday afternoon [October 27] at the Tom Lee Music Hall, as part of the Vancouver International Drum Festival.) Clinics aren’t his favourite thing to do, though.

“I guess it’s better than a jab in the ass with a frozen carrot,” he says. “I like goin’ to ’em, but it’s kinda pressurized, because all these drummers are there, and they’re kind of in ‘impress me’ mode. I’m known for flamboyant solos and things like that, so when I go to those things people expect a lot, and it’s more an athletic endeavour, really, than a musical one. I mean, I enjoy bein’ around drums and drummers, but the drums are first and foremost an instrument of accompaniment, so if I had my druthers I’d rather be out in the middle of a tour playin’ music, you know.”

The last band Aldridge toured with was Thin Lizzy, which yours truly happened to see at the Showbox in Seattle last February. Aldridge did a commendable job of pounding out the hits that night—or at least I thought so—but he claims that he couldn’t play what he wanted to, having torn the rotator cuff in his left shoulder three days before. Ouch! He had to undergo surgery shortly thereafter.

“I’m up to full velocity and torque now,” he reports, “but it was a real exercise in patience for me, because I’d been workin’ solid for about two-and-a-half years without a break, and all of a sudden I went from playin’ five or six nights a week and bicycling 350 miles a week to doin’ zero. So that part of it was a lot more challenging than the pain associated with it, I think.”

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