Tommy Aldridge interview – by Travis Marc – 2013.
Tommy Aldridge needs no introduction. In my opinion, he is one of the great double bass drumming pioneers in Metal history and has proven himself time and time again by working with some of the biggest Rock/Metal bands of our time. Just some of these include – Ozzy Osbourne, Motorhead, Ted Nugent, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy and Gary Moore. Recently, Tommy was kind enough to grant me some of his time to do this interview, here’s what the drumming legend had to say…
Hi Tommy – thanks for taking the time to talk with us, let’s start by talking about what you’re currently up to?
Well, I just bought a new house so I’m taking a bit of time off as I’m not on tour at the moment. In addition I just finished working on some tracks with a wonderfully talented Norwegian guitarist. I might have some stuff coming up with a really high profile guitarist and bassist, but don’t really want to talk about it to much or mention their names in case it doesn’t happen.
As a self taught player, how important do you feel drum tuition is?
I’m a self taught player more because of necessity than anything else you know. Where I grew up in Southern Florida, there weren’t many teaching resources so I basically taught myself by playing along to records by bands like Cream, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. I wouldn’t really be able to say if I’ve personally had any advantage, or disadvantages by going this route simply because I don’t know any better. As a whole, I think drum tuition is great though, I just never never went down that road if that makes sense.
Your double bass playing has to be some of the most inspiring I’ve ever seen (especially given when you were doing it), so I always find it quite a treat to watch clips of your playing. Are there currently any drummers out there that you enjoy watching?
Well double bass playing has really been taken to a complete new level now days. There’s some serious ‘rocket science’ type drumming going on out there right now. The music business is far bigger and much more populated than what it was while I was coming up, so there are a lot more drummers now etc. All in all, I think it’s a good thing but without a doubt there has to be more competition out there now. In regards to drummers I think people should check out, well, I really enjoy watching Ray Luzier, he’s a great drummer and in general a really nice person. I feel that he’s got a lot to say and that he doesn’t mind saying it. Yeah, I really dig his drumming a lot, he’s got great chops and a great groove.
After your stint with Pat Travers in the early 80’s you decided to move to the UK – what would you say your main reasoning behind this was?
It was a really big decision, but truthfully a lot of my favourite records had come out of the UK and I had toured the country a few times. At the time there were a few situations within the Pat Travers group that I didn’t feel very comfortable with and I also had a few personal things going on at home too, so when that last Pat Travers tour that I was involved with was coming to an end I made the decision to go straight from our last show in Berlin, to the UK. I didn’t really have a plan, I was just going to give it a go and see what happened, but it worked out quite nicely as I got to work with the likes of Gary Moore and eventually hooked up with Ozzy. I met Randy Rhoads while working with Gary, and when I eventually got to work with Randy within Ozzy’s band it became one of my lives musical highlights. Living in the UK was a great experience for me, I can’t say that I was overly crazy about the weather, but I guess you’ve got to take the bad with the good. I think the reason that so many amazing musicians come out of the UK is because they all stay indoors and practice all the time due to the rainy weather ha ha.
It was only when you moved back to the US that you actually started working with Ozzy though, can you tell us how the opportunity to join Ozzy’s band came about?
Gary Moore was signed to Jet Records which happened to be owned by Sharon Osbournes father. Sharon was working at the Jet Records offices at the time when Ozzy signed with the label and the opportunity pretty much arose from there. After I finished my stint with Gary I decided to go back to the US and sort through a few things that I hadn’t quite taken care of before I originally made the move to the UK, and it was while I was back in the US that I got the call.
Working with Ozzy was an unbelievable experience and I take my hat off to him as both a musician and a performer, but working with Randy was the real highlight for me, we just locked in better than anyone else I’ve ever worked with, so musically it was a really rewarding experience.
In addition to the artists already mentioned you’ve also worked with Whitesnake, MotorHead, Thin Lizzy and Ted Nugent, among others, are there any artists currently out there that you could visualise yourself playing with now?
I’d say that I’ve been predominately a freelance drummer my whole career. I’ve played with tons of guys and been part of many groups/bands but I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever really been part of a band where each individual was depended on the other so much that if one member had to leave the whole band would fall apart. I’ve always respected bands like Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith for example, that have basically been a group of individuals who without each other seize to exist as a band. So, I’ve always envied guys who’ve had the opportunity to perform with one band for their entire career.
In regards to playing with someone now I think Kid Rock would be great. The music is so aggressive but kinda has a bit of a bop type thing going with it, it’s fantastic. Don’t get me wrong I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with all the groups I have been involved with, Thin Lizzy was a lot of fun and the stuff I got to do with Ted Nugent was great too, but I was really just playing someone else’s parts and adding my own stamp on it. That’s why I’m really excited for this trio I briefly mentioned earlier because if it takes off it’s going to give me the chance to actually be part of a project and not just a session guy.
I once saw a video clip in which you were talking to someone about endorsements and how discounted endorsements shouldn’t really qualify under the term endorsement. Now days though every drummer you see, seems to have a large list of these type of discounted endorsements to their name. Do you feel that having a product behind you as an up and coming drummer portrays the perception that you’re a better player than you actually are?
People always ask me ‘when I made it’, and truthfully I can’t say that I have ever felt like I have. The first real big sense of achievement/accomplishment that I felt when I was coming up was when I was offered my Zildjian endorsement. It felt like I was finally getting somewhere you know. Also, I wasn’t only using their products because I was now getting them for free, I had been playing them as a brand for ages, even going as far as skipping meals to replace or maintain various bits and pieces of gear that I needed when gigging because I really believed in the brand.
I think what’s happening a lot now days is that certain products or companies are going after guys based on the bands that they’re playing in, rather than their own individual ability. I mean there are tons of guys who are getting endorsed because of the above mentioned reason, at least from what I can gather.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that all music and drumming has a place and that it shouldn’t matter what the vibe of it is if it’s moving people, I just think that individual playing ability should still be looked at. With me, (for example) I feel that I’ve gotten to a point in my career that the companies that now endorse me stay with me, not because of who I’m playing or have played with, but because they like what it is that I do. I realise that the bands that I get to play with have added to the reputation I have and played a huge part with it etc, but my relationships with the companies behind mean a lot, and are strong enough for me to believe that if I go somewhere the brand would come with me etc.
What would you say has been the best advice you have ever received in regards to your career?
Man, I’ve been given so much great advice over the course of my career, but generally speaking I have always been to hard headed to use any of it, especially in my earlier years. I guess I’d have to say to take advantage of it, because it’s not going to last forever, whatever it is. Also, don’t try be something that you’re not. Be legitimate about your drumming and who you are. Don’t second guess yourself and just do what makes you happy.
Any last thoughts or words of advice?
I don’t really know much about anything to comfortably give advice, but if I have to I’d tell the up and coming guys to make sure that they rehearse with a click at every opportunity they have, don’t allow yourself to be in a situation where you feel unprepared purely because you didn’t practice with a click !