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

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 25, 2001

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 (www.tommyaldridge.com/). 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.”

 

To hear the full audio of my 2001 interview with Tommy Aldridge subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can also eavesdrop on my one-on-one conversations with:

Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, 1985
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
Rudolf Schenker of Scorpions, 1992
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
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Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Tommy Shannon of Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
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Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
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Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
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Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
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David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
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Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
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Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
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Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
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Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
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Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
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Joe Satriani, 1990
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Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
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Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
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J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
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Alex Van Halen, 1995
Eric Johnson, 2001
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Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
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Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
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Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
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John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
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Paul Rodgers, 1997
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Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
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Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
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Tommy Aldridge, 2001
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Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
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Otis Rush, 1997
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Uli Jon Roth, 2016
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…with hundreds more to come

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