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Pete Thompson

Interview by Rich "Doc Spoons" Spooner // July 02 2010
Pete Thompson

Look out of the window a lot. It’s amazing what you miss. We’re lucky in this job of ours to travel the world, mostly at someone else’s expense, and all we have to do is what we do best--play music!

I met Pete a few years ago when the band I was with was supporting guitar legend Robin Trower on his first farewell tour in the UK. Needless to say, Pete was drumming for Robin, and I liked him immediately as he congratulated me on a great performance as we came off stage on opening night. It’s pretty rare for the artists you are supporting to pass comment, let alone take time out to listen and watch as you play, so I was very pleased that Pete had made the effort to say something.

As the tour went on Pete and I shared more time together-- at the show, backstage, having a beer or a crafty cigarette between changeovers--during this time I discovered just how many of my favorite drum grooves were thanks to him. We have since become firm friends and he has offered no end of great advice and inspiration for my career.Despite the fact he now lives in the USA and me in Switzerland we still stay in touch. So here, without further ado, a brief chat with the great Pete Thompson.

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Pete, thanks for taking some time out for a chat, we chatted a lot on the Robin Trower tour but I never got ‘round to asking you what first inspired you to play drums and why. Was it a particular drummer or a record you heard and wanted to emulate?

Definitely records I heard on pirate radio growing up in the late 50s and 60s. But my mother was always singing and there was always music in my house, so I just picked up things from all sorts of styles. I was always tapping on things and driving everyone crazy. It was all I could think of.

Did you take lessons and learn to read music as a kid?

Nah, never had a lesson in my life. I didn’t know there were such things! I never saw a music rag (paper) till I was out of school, no one told me they existed.

How did it happen? What started you off on the drums? I mean, did you practice much as a kid or did you just get stuck in and play?

I started actually playing drums when I borrowed a Vox kit from a mate. He wanted to play harmonica and I didn’t have a kit, so that worked out pretty well for a while. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing though but had a good idea it was ok. You see, I didn’t have anyone to check myself against till I went out at 17 and looked at local bands in church halls and such. Then I had my eyes opened as to how many playing-by-number drummers there were out there. Guys with no feel at all, just eyeing up the birds and pulling at the end of the night cause they owned a kit and were in a band! I wanted in on that but still didn’t have a kit. That came later. I locked myself away from all distractions and tapped on anything I could till I got a kit. And going back to your question, I guess I did practice a lot, mainly to Mitch Mitchell with Hendrix. 

What was your first pro gig?

My first pro gig was in a function band at a US airbase in Northolt UK, playing to the flyboys. Long sets, all styles, and long nights. We traveled all over the UK, played them all. A good learning curve!

So after that how did you continue to develop your career? What did you do to get gigs/promote yourself, move it on, so to speak?

I never went looking for gigs or bands, Rich, because I had a bit of a rep in Essex as ‘the one to get hold of’-- not in a conceited way at all, mate. It’s just that they came to me is all. I went fishing for a gig once and drove this poor sod mad getting him to try me out. When he eventually did (out of desperation to get rid of me, by the way) I landed the job and since that from way back, I’ve made myself available to whoever wanted me to play for them. I said yes to everyone. I wanted to play so badly.

You’ve played for loads of artists, Pete, but who has been your favorite to work with?

Now this is a tough one because I’ve spent many years playing with people that no one will ever hear of. I loved working  with everyone, you know, and not necessarily the famous ones. When you get in this business and you get to meet your idols on a regular basis, it’s not all its cracked up to be, mate!

I loved working with Melanie Safka, Eric Bibb, Robin Trower, Robert Plant, Murray Head, Cher and all those types of pros, but I think it must be Pete Haycock of the Climax Blues Band. He’s just the greatest guy to work with and gave me all the freedom to just play my kit. It allowed you to shine cause of the smiles around on stage all the time, it was great music too.

Which single moment are you most proud of in your career as a drummer?

Receiving gold and platinum albums from Robert Plant for my work on Fate of Nations and I guess my family turning up to see me headlining a major venue in London too. That was special.

Okay, Pete, you don’t have to answer this one but are there any moments that you’re are ashamed of?

Apart from doing some very dodgy sessions in the 70s, some were hits too, the answer is no. (I know what the sessions were but I’m not telling--Rich)

How do you keep things fresh when playing with an artist for a long time?

Keep thinking on your feet. Things change daily, try to be open about arrangement changes when they happen and be as enthusiastic as possible at all times.

What are your top tips for touring?

Look out of the window a lot. It’s amazing what you miss. We’re lucky in this job of ours to travel the world, mostly at someone else’s expense, and all we have to do is what we do best--play music!  

Also try to get sleep wherever possible, drink water by the gallon, and look after ya hands. Never try to over grip the sticks as then blisters won’t be far away. Stay as relaxed behind the kit as possible, always make sure you are as comfortable as possible, and try to be friendly to all you meet. They will remember you for it!

Now, you’ve been about a bit during your career and one of the perks of the job is the place you get to visit. So, what is your favorite country to visit on tour?

USA and Germany have always been good to me, and I love those countries’ ambiance. I have played every stadium in the world; I think and many of them here in the US. And Germany days bring back many happy memories. I also love Great Britain because the people are so honest, and Japan because it gave me my first taste of fan hysteria and you can keep it, pal. (Laughs)

Do you have a favorite snare drum or cymbal amongst your collection?

My fave snare drum is a Paul Mason Tempus carbon fibre 8x14. It kicks ass everywhere it goes. As for cymbals, I’m getting a new setup from Paiste soon, all 2002 series ‘cause they’re just the nuts. I use Signature series at the moment, but my all time fave was an old 70s Paiste 2002 Jazz Ping Ride 2002. Irreplaceable. Got nicked with all my others ages ago.

Aside from being a solid musician what would you say the most essential skills are to sustain a career in music?

Believe in your capabilities. Always be ready, whether it is rehearsals, gigs or sessions. Do ya homework when approached by an artist, find out all about them. Play with feeling and always be approachable to others around you. Always try to be musical in your work.

You’ve toured all over the world, got the gold discs, played the stadiums and the clubs, got the T-Shirt etc., but are there any things you still would like to achieve in your drumming career?

Yes, I would like to be recognized as an all rounder not just a rock thumper. I have played great jazz, orchestral sessions, funk R&B stuff, but no one ever gets to hear all that stuff. It’s not a complaint that I’ve been pigeon holed by so many. I have so many arrows left to fire, and I’m still hungry, not for success, but acceptance from the drum world, I guess. There are so many finer players out there who have never got what I have been given, so I am very grateful for anything coming my way.

What’s going on for you at the moment, any tours/recordings etc.

I’m busy recording my own material at the moment. I’m touring the UK/Europe in August, September, October with Robin Trower and have a new album I’ve just finished with him (and also another one to do after the tour is over, I’m told). Then it’s a 20-week tour of the states in Feb 2011.

Oh, I must quickly say thank you to Evans heads for the great support you give me constantly and Paiste for letting me come back home at my age (laughs). Aside from drumming I’m going to LA soon to try to secure a writer’s deal with some big companies, so things are looking good for me as a composer too.

Also I’m teaching here in Texas so if anyone wants to say hello just go to my website and I will get back to you soon. 

Visit Pete online: http://www.myspace.com/trapsboxone

Photo: Neil Calandra - www.neilcalandra.carbonmade.com




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About the Author
Rich "Doc Spoons" Spooner

Richard “Doc Spoons” Spooner is a British professional drummer and educator, based out of Switzerland. Doc is touring & recording with multi-platinum selling artist Philipp Fankhauser. Doc proudly endorses C&C drums, Paiste cymbals, Agner drumsticks, Baskey Drumruggs & Luggs, Hardcase Cases,Protection Racket Bags & Tour Luggage,Porter & Davies Monitoring, Big Fat Snare Drum, Kelly SHU, Tuner-Fish. Visit Doc online at www.docspoons.com  or follow him on Twitter@DocSpoons



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